Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
After Darkness is currently studied in VCE English under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
1. Introduction (Plot Summary) 2. Characters and Development 3. Themes 4. Narrative Conventions/Literary Devices 5. Sample Paragraphs 6. Additional Essay Prompts and Analysis Questions to Consider 7. Tips
1. Introduction (Plot Summary)
Christine Piper’s historical fiction, After Darkness deals with suppressed fragments of the past and silenced memories. The protagonist, Dr Ibaraki, attempts to move forward with life whilst also trying to hide past confrontations as well as any remnants of his past wrongdoings and memories. The text consists of three intertwined narrative strands – Ibaraki’s past in Tokyo in 1934, his arrival in Broome in 1938 to work in a hospital there, and his arrival in a detainment camp in Loveday (South Australia) in 1942 after the outbreak of war.
2. Characters and Development
4. Narrative Conventions/Literary Devices
‘a mallee tree’ - Aboriginal word for water which symbolises purity, source of life 'if it’s hit by bushfire it grows back from the root with lots of branches, like all the others here. It’s a tough tree. Drought, bushfire…it’ll survive almost anything…I was struck by the ingenuity of the tree in its ability to generate and create a new shape better suited to the environment.'
The tag with 'the character ko…[with] its loop of yellowed string...The knot at the end had left an impression on the page behind it: a small indentation, like a scar.'
'Felt like hell on earth'
'The hollow trunks of dead trees haunted its edges like lost people' - Can also link to the landscape narrative convention
'The scene was like a photograph, preserving the strangeness of the moment.'
Description of the hospital atmosphere where the patient next to Hayashi laid
'Only the windows were missing, leaving dark holes like the eyes of an empty soul'
'The photos reached me first. I leafed through the black and white images: swollen fingers, blistered toes, blackened faces, and grotesque, rotting flesh that shrivelled and puckered to reveal bone. The final photo depicted a child’s chubby hands, the tips of the fingers all black.' - Also foreshadowing death of his and Kayoko’s child
'That afternoon, the sky darkened, and the wind picked up…making the world outside opaque.'
Middlemarch (book) which symbolises Ibaraki and Sister Bernice’s friendship as Bernice was left behind
'Being able to conduct research in this way has delivered unparalleled knowledge, which we’ve already passed on to the army to minimise further loss of life.'
'You haafu fools don’t deserve the Japanese blood in you!'
'You bloody racist!'
'You fucking Emperor-worshipping pig...!'
'Haafu' - Derogatory, racism term used to define those who are biracial (half Japanese):
An interpretation of the language use throughout the text could be Piper’s way of humanising the Japanese people to her readers and notifying them that they also have their own culture and form of communication
Another interpretation of the language use is to show that both the Australians and Japanese are just as cruel as each other because they show no respect to one another and use language in such a brutal way
Ibaraki represents that divide where he can speak both languages, yet still, cannot voice his own opinion or stand up for himself (link to theme of silence)
'The void seemed to have a force of its own, drawing the meaning of the words into it.'
'The engine coughed into life.'
'snow was falling as I walked home from the station – the first snow of the season.' - Foreshadowing the storm about to come in his life
'A black silhouette against the fallen snow.' - Foreshadowing Kayoko’s death
5. Sample Paragraphs
'But as soon as you show a part of yourself, almost at once you hide it away.' Ibaraki’s deepest flaw in After Darkness is his failure to reveal himself. Do you agree?
Christine Piper’s historical fiction, After Darkness explores the consequences that an individual will be forced to endure when they choose to conceal the truth from their loved ones. Piper reveals that when a person fails to reveal themselves, it can eventually become a great obstacle which keeps them from creating meaningful and successful relationships. Additionally, Piper asserts that it can be difficult for an individual to confront their past and move completely forward with their present, especially if they believed their actions were morally wrong. Furthermore, Piper highlights the importance of allowing people into one’s life as a means to eliminate the build-up the feelings of shame and guilt.
Piper acknowledges that some people will find it difficult to open up to others about their past due to them accumulating a large amount of regret and guilt over time. This is the case for Ibaraki as he was involved with the ‘experiments’ when he was working in the ‘Epidemic Prevention Laboratory', in which Major Kimura sternly told him to practise ‘discretion and not talk ‘about [his] work to anybody'. The inability to confide in his wife or mother after performing illegal and mentally disturbing actions causes him to possess a brusque conduct towards others, afraid that they will discover his truth and ‘not be able to look at [him] at all'. His failure to confess his past wrongdoings shapes the majority of his life, ruining his marriage and making him feel the need ‘to escape’ from his losses and ‘start afresh'. He eventually lies to his mother by making her believe that he ‘had gone to Kayoko’s parents’ house’ for the break, avoiding any questions from being raised about his job. As a consequence, he fails to tell his family about his horrid past suggesting that he has accepted that ‘[his] life had become one that others whispered about'. Juxtaposed to Ibaraki’s stress relieving methods, Kayoko confides in her mother after she receives news of her miscarriage, highlighting that when one willingly shares their pain with loved ones, it can release the burden as well as provide them with some assistance. In contrast to this, Ibaraki’s guilty conscience indicates that he will take ‘the secret to his grave', making it extremely difficult for people he encounters to understand him and form a meaningful connection with him. Nonetheless, Piper does not place blame on Ibaraki as he was ordered to keep the ‘specimen’ business hidden from society, thereby inviting her readers to keep in mind that some individuals are forced by others to not reveal their true colours for fear of ruining a specific reputation.
Throughout the journey in After Darkness, Piper engendered that remaining silent about one’s past events that shapes their future is one of the deepest flaws. She notes that for people to understand and form bonds with one another, it is extremely important to reveal their identity as masking it only arises suspicions. Piper postulates that for some, memories are nostalgic; whereas, for others it carries an unrelenting burden of guilt, forcing them to hide themselves which ultimately becomes the reason as to why they feel alone in their life.
6. Additional Essay Prompts and Analysis Questions to Consider
Analyse the role of silence in After Darkness. Compare the ways in which the characters in the text utilise or handle silence. What is Piper suggesting about the notion of silence?
Discuss the importance of friendship in the text. What is it about friends that make the characters appear more human? How can friendship bolster development in one’s character?
Racism and nationalism are prominent themes in the text. How are the two interlinked? Explore the ways they are shown throughout the text and by different characters. Is Piper indicating that the two always lead to negative consequences?
Analyse some of the narrative conventions (imagery, simile, metaphor, symbols, motifs, landscapes, language, etc.) in the novel and what they mean to certain characters and to the readers.
Explore the ways in which the text emphasises that personal conscience can oftentimes hold people back from revealing their true thoughts and feelings.
Character transformation (bildungsroman) is prevalent throughout the text. What is Piper suggesting through Ibaraki’s character in terms of the friendships and acquaintances he has formed and how have they impacted him? How have these relationships shaped him as a person in the past and present? Were such traits he developed over time beneficial for himself and those around him or have they caused the destruction of once healthy relationships?
Be sure to read as many academic articles as you can find in relation to the text in order to assist you with in-depth analysis when writing your essays. This will help you to stand out from the crowd and place you in a higher standing compared to your classmates as your ideas will appear much more sophisticated and thought-out.
Being clear and concise with the language choices is such a crucial factor. Don’t over complicate the ideas you are trying to get across to your examiners by incorporating ‘big words’ you believe will make your writing appear of higher quality, because in most cases, it does the exact opposite (see Why Using Big Words in VCE Essays Can Make You Look Dumber). Be careful! If it's a choice between using simpler language that your examiners will understand vs. using more complex vocabulary where it becomes difficult for the examiners to understand what you're trying to say, the first option is best! Ideally though, you want to find a balance between the two - a clearly written, easy to understand essay with more complex vocabulary and language woven into it.
If there is a quote in the prompt, be sure to embed the quote into the analysis, rather than making the quote its own sentence. You only need to mention this quote once in the entire essay. How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss has everything you need to know for this!
If you'd like to see sample A+ essays complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+, then you'll definitely want to check out our After Darkness Study Guide! In it, we also cover advanced discussions on topics like structural features and context, completely broken down into easy-to-understand concepts so you can smash your next SAC or exam! Check it out here.
Although it appears on criteria sheets, many students never really understand the term metalanguage. Strangely, it is something that is rarely addressed in classrooms. While the word may be foreign to you, rest assured that metalanguage is not an entirely new concept you have to learn. How come? Because you have been unknowingly using metalanguage since the very beginning of high school.
It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes.
So, let's find out exactly what metalanguage is.
2. Definition of Metalanguage
Metalanguage is language that describes language.
So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles, and trying to analyze what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.
The simplest way to explain this is to focus on part 3 of the English exam – Language Analysis. In Language Analysis, we look at the author’s writing and label particular phrases with persuasive techniques such as: symbolism, imagery or personification. Through our description of the way an author writes (via the words ‘symbolism’, ‘imagery’ or ‘personification’), we have effectively used language that describes language.
Now, if we look at the bigger picture, our analysis of an author’s language can be applied to Text Response, and even Reading and Comparing. To learn more about why metalanguage is important in Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response. Otherwise, for those interested in Comparative, head over to our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
3. Examples of Metalanguage in VCE English
Grammar and punctuation
Achilles is characterised as a foetus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. (Ransom, David Malouf)
In the first scene of All About Eve*, Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award
As you can see, the word 'foreshadows' pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyze what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used.
When Terry leaves Friendly’s bar, the thick fog symbolises his clouded moral judgement as he decides whether he should remain ‘D and D’, or become a ‘rat’. (On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan)
The miniature set Zac creates is designed with a white backdrop, symbolising his desire to wipe away reality since he ‘can’t stand real things'. (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
In Medea, the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.
This student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.
As indicated earlier, you should be familiar with many, if not all the terms mentioned above. Take note that some metalanguage terms are specific to a writing form, such as camera angle for films. If you need help learning new terms, we have you covered - be sure to check out our metalanguage word banks for books and our metalanguage wordbank for films.
As you discuss themes or characters, you should try and weave metalanguage throughout your body paragraphs. The purpose of this criteria is to demonstrate your ability to understand how the author uses language to communicate his or her meaning. The key is to remember that the author’s words or phrases are always chosen with a particular intention – it is your job to investigate why the author has written a text in a particular way.
[Modified Video Transcription]
Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. Today, I'm really excited to talk to you about metalanguage. Have you guys ever heard of metalanguage before? It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes. So, let's find out exactly what is metalanguage.
Simply put, metalanguage just means language that analyses language. When authors write anything, we make certain decisions when it comes to writing. So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles and trying to analyse what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.
Metalanguage comes in really handy, especially if you're somebody who struggles with retelling the story - I have a video on how to avoid retelling the story, which you can watch. Metalanguage essentially takes you to the next level. It prevents you from just saying what happened, and forces you into actually looking at how the ideas and themes are developed by the author through the words that they choose to use. So, let's have a look at a couple of examples to give you a better idea. I'm going to show you two examples. One uses metalanguage and one doesn't, and you'll see how a massive difference in how the student understands the text is really clear.
Number one, foreshadowing.
In the first scene of All About Eve, Mankiewicz emphasizes Eve's sorrowful expression as she accepts her award.
In the first scene of All About Eve, Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award.
As you can see, as soon as we put in the word foreshadows, it pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyse what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used. So, in this case, it's foreshadowing. Let's have a look at another one, motif.
In Medea, Euripides commonly refers to animals when describing Medea's actions and temperament.
In Medea, the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.
See how, in the first example, it was really just telling you what we might already know through just reading the book, but when it comes to the second example, this student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.
So, those are some examples of metalanguage. There are so many more different types of metalanguage out there...
Planning is an essential part of any successful text response essay. It helps you ensure that you’re answering the prompt, utilising enough quotes and writing the most unique and perceptive analysis possible! The hard part of this is that you only have about FIVE MINUTES to plan each essay in the Year 12 English exam… (more info on the best way to tackle that challenge in this video!)
So, I developed the FIVE TYPES of essay prompts to help students streamline their planning process and maximise every minute of their SACs and exams.
By identifying the type of prompt you’re being challenged with immediately, a number of parameters or guidelines are already set in place. For a specific type of prompt, you have specific criteria to meet – for example, in a metalanguage-based prompt, you immediately know that any evidence you brainstorm in your planning stage should be based around the literary techniques used in your given text.
‘Ambition in the play Macbeth leads to success.’ Discuss. (Macbeth)
When you’re presented with a theme-based prompt, you can automatically shift your brainstorming and planning towards the themes mentioned in the prompt along with any others that you can link to the core theme in some way.
In regard to this Macbeth prompt, for example, you could explore the different ways the theme of ambition is presented in the text. Additionally, the themes of guilt and power are intimately related to ambition in the text, so you can use those other ideas to aid your brainstorming and get you a step ahead of the rest of the state come exam day.
2. Character-Based Prompt
‘Frankenstein’s hubris is what punishes him.’ Discuss. (Frankenstein)
These prompts are pretty easy to spot – if you see a character’s name in the prompt, there you have it; you have a character-based prompt on your hands.
Once you know this, you can assume that each example you brainstorm has to be relevant to the specific character named in the prompt in some way. Also, you can explore how the actions of characters don’t occur in isolation – they’re almost always interrelated. Remember, however, that the actions of characters are always connected to the themes and ideas the author is trying to convey.
This type of prompt also grants you some freedoms that other types don’t give. For example, unlike a Theme-based prompt, a character-based prompt means that it’s perfectly fine to write about characters in the topic sentences of your body paragraphs.
3. How-Based Prompt
‘How does Grenville showcase Rooke’s inner conflict in The Lieutenant?’ (The Lieutenant)
Unlike other prompts, the ‘How’ positions you to focus more on the author’s writing intentions. This can be achieved by discussing metalanguage – language that describes language (read my blog post about it here). These prompts tell you immediately that you need to be thinking about the literary techniques explored in the text and explain how they affect the narrative.
Rather than using specific techniques to frame your specific arguments, it’s best to use them as evidence to support arguments that attack the main themes/ideas mentioned in the prompt.
4. Metalanguage or Film-Technique-Based Prompt
‘Hitchcock’s use of film techniques offers an unnerving viewing experience’. Discuss. (Rear Window)
This type of prompt is very similar to How-based prompts, specifically in the fact that the discussion of literary techniques is essential.
For this type of prompt specifically, however, the actual techniques used can form more of a basis for your arguments, unlike in How-based prompts.
5. Quote-Based Prompt
“Out, damned spot!” How does Shakespeare explore the burden of a guilty conscience in Macbeth? (Macbeth)
Countless students ask me every year, “What do I do when there’s a quote in the prompt?!” My reply to these questions is actually fairly straightforward!
There are two main things that you should do when presented with this type of prompt. Firstly, contextualise the quote in your essay and try to use it in your analysis in some way. Secondly, interpret the themes and issues addressed in the quote and implement these into your discussion. The best place to do both of these is in a body paragraph – it weaves in seamlessly and allows for a good amount of analysis, among other reasons!
When faced with unknown prompts in a SAC or your exam, it's reassuring to have a formulaic breakdown of the prompt so that your brain immediately starts categorising the prompt - which of the 5 types of prompts does this one in front of me fall into? To learn more about brainstorming, planning, essay structures for Text Response, read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Many lawyers today would cite this 60-year-old story as an inspiration—Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is, at its core, the tale of one attorney’s quest against racial injustice in his Deep South home, and of his children coming of age in the shadow of their father.
The novel is narrated in two parts by his younger child, Scout, and along with her brother Jem and their friend Dill, she traces their upbringing as inspired by Atticus’ moral teachings of tolerance, courage and justice. The first part follows their childhood, and their interactions with characters such as Boo Radley, Walter Cunningham, Miss Caroline and Mrs Dubose, while the second part follows the Tom Robinson trial itself, testing the children on the moral lessons of their childhood and disillusioning them to the overwhelming racism of their community.
We’ll be going through the novel’s major themes, and also looking at it a bit more critically within the historical context of civil rights and racial justice struggles.
All throughout the novel resonate messages of tolerance over prejudice. However, before any question of race is introduced, the children must confront their prejudices about Boo Radley, a local recluse who was rumoured to have attacked his parents. While they (particularly Jem and Dill) lowkey harass Boo by playing around his yard, re-enacting dramaticised versions of his life, and sending notes into his house with a fishing pole, they undoubtedly get drawn into the rumours as well: he was “six-and-a-half feet tall”, he “dined on raw squirrels” and he had a head “like a skull”.
What is prejudice, after all? In this case, it doesn’t have to do with race necessarily—it’s more about how the children judge Boo, form a preconceived image of who he is, before they really know him.
And this happens to other white characters too—notably Walter Cunningham, a boy from a poor family who Aunt Alexandra straight up derides as “trash”. Even when invited to dinner by the Finches, he is dismissed by Scout as “just a Cunningham”, and this is where Calpurnia steps in as the moral voice, chastising her for acting “high and mighty” over this boy who she hardly knows.
The racial dimension of prejudice is impossible to ignore though—as Atticus says, “people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box”. The word ‘resentment’ has special significance here in the context of the Great Depression (in which the novel was set—more on this in a later section) but the general idea is clear: Black Americans like Tom Robinson were guilty, and therefore doomed, the minute they stepped into a court because the white jury inevitably bore prejudices against them.
At the end of the day, the panacea Lee presents for prejudice is empathy, the idea that only by truly understanding someone, “climb[ing] into [their] skin and walk[ing] around in it”, can we overcome our own prejudices—something that the jury isn’t quite able to do by the end of the novel.
Justice in To Kill A Mockingbird
In the second part of the novel, these moral questions around prejudice and empathy find an arena in the courtroom, where Tom has been unfairly charged with rape and is being defended by Atticus. The court of law is supposed to be this colour-blind, impartial site of dispute resolution, where anybody “ought to get a square deal”, but the reality we see in the novel falls dramatically short; Tom is indeed ultimately found guilty despite the evidence to the contrary.
The intersection of these themes—race, prejudice and justice—forces us to confront the reality that our legal institutions may not be as colour-blind and impartial as we thought. As Atticus says in his closing statement, “a court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.” However, what we see is that the people who make up a jury are not necessarily as sound as he/we would hope—Scout later recognises that the true trial occurs in the “secret courts of men's hearts”, and that racist biases were always going to get in the way of a fair verdict.
Heroism and Courage in To Kill A Mockingbird
All of that sounds pretty dire, so is the novel then purely pessimistic? We’re going to complicate this a little here, and then (spoiler) a little more in the “Past the Basics (II)” section, but let’s say for now that even though the outcome may be cause for pessimism, the novel is not so pessimistic on the whole. This is because of one central moral that stands out from all of Atticus’ other teachings, and that strings the entire story together, namely the idea that courage doesn’t have any one single shape or form, that anybody can be courageous.
In Part One, we find an unlikely hero in Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, who the children describe as “plain hell”—when Jem takes out her flowers, Atticus makes him read to her as punishment. Only when she dies is it revealed that she was a morphine addict who had been trying to cut the habit in her last days, which Atticus sees as extremely brave: “[Real courage is] when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” For all we know, this could’ve been about himself…
Another example of Atticus switching up what it means to be heroic is in the way he puts down Tim Johnson. Don’t stress if you forgot who that is—Tim is the rabid dog. Jem is blown away by his father’s marksmanship, which he had never actually witnessed. Atticus transforms this into yet another lesson about courage: "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand."
What we see here is Lee trying to broaden the reader’s imagination of what a hero could be, or what courage could look like, and all of this momentum eventually builds to the trial in Part Two. Even Tim Johnson’s name calls to mind parallels with Tom Robinson’s legal battle, in which Atticus heroically takes up the huge responsibility of protecting the innocent, and in spite of his best efforts, both times he fails.
Yet maybe both times he knew it would be inevitable—courage is “know[ing] you’re licked before you begin”, right?
Fatherhood vs Adolescence in To Kill A Mockingbird
This knowledge seems to be one of those unfortunate things that comes with age and life experience. While Atticus already understands this, it doesn’t quite click for his children until the end of the novel. Jem is particularly shaken by the guilty verdict: “It ain’t right”, he cries.
The novel is sometimes referred to as a bildungsroman for this reason: at its core, it’s a coming-of-age story. Jem may have been really idealistic about law and justice and the court system, but this is the first time in his life that he has had to grapple with the reality that all these institutions might be flawed, and that his dad is a hero not because he always wins, but because he’s willing to get into the fight even when he knows he might lose. Even though these messages came through all across the novel, Jem’s personal investment in the Robinson trial brings it all together for him.
Thus, on the one hand, you have this disillusionment and loss on innocence, but on the other, you also have this shift in worldview that may well be valuable in the long run.
It’s also worth noting that Jem isn’t the only character who experiences this though—and also that heroism isn’t the only theme that is affected. Scout experiences similar disappointments, and they both grapple with other questions of conscience, tolerance and conformity throughout the novel.
Past the basics: Narrative Structure
I’ve hinted to this briefly throughout the themes, but the two-part structure of the novel plays a key role in delivering the key moral messages. While Part One isn’t necessarily the story you’d expect (given that it’s very long and almost completely not about the trial itself), many of the characters and their interactions with Jem, Scout and Dill are incredibly meaningful. (Walter Cunningham and Mrs. Dubose are covered above, but try to form some of these connections yourself).
Boo Radley is the key character who connects the two parts of the story. He spends much of the first part in hiding, occasionally leaving gifts for the kids in a tree (chapter 7), or giving them a blanket during a fire (chapter 8). However, he’s also victim to their prejudice and their gossip—they don’t see him as a person, but rather as an enigma whom they can harass and talk about at will. In the second part however, he emerges to save Jem from Bob Ewell and is actually a rather unassuming man. Here, Scout and Jem must reckon with the moral lessons they’ve been taught about prejudice, but also about innocence and courage. It’s through these interactions as well that they come closer to understanding Atticus, and his brave quest to defend the innocent. In many ways, the first part of the novel sets up and drives these ideas home.
Past the basics: Critical Racial Analysis
As foreshadowed, we’re going to complicate the heroism element of the novel here, and I’ll start with a quote from a New York Times review: “I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample firsthand experience.”
So is there an issue when a story of Black injustice only elevates white people as heroes? Not to say that Atticus can’t be heroic, but what does it say that he’s the brave, stoic hero in a story about a Black man’s unjust suffering?
I think to best understand these complexities, it’s worth situating the story in its historical context.
1930s: Great Depression; when the novel is set. Economy had collapsed and masses were unemployed; with slavery abolished, Black people were competing with white people for labour, fuelling resentment. Harper Lee grew up in this time, so there are autobiographical elements to the novel.
1960s: Civil Rights Movement; when the novel is published. For the first time in history, Black heroes were capturing national white attention and shifting the needle drastically towards racial justice. It was in this watershed wave of activism and social change that people read this book for the first time, and it was received as a deeply authentic voice within this movement.
2010s: Present day; when the novel is currently being read. We’re closer towards achieving racial justice now, but we’re also in a world where more and more young people are cognisant of these issues. While the novel’s image on the surface (of white kids being blown away by the existence of racism) is fading in relevance, there are underlying messages that are still relevant: racism and prejudice is inevitable, and can occur across and within racial lines; courage and heroism can take many forms (consider how Black characters—such as Calpurnia—also act in heroic ways); and the experiences of young people, whether experiencing racism firsthand or witnessing its divisive impact, undoubtedly shape their values and morals as they enter the adult world.
If the same story was published today, it probably wouldn’t have the same impact, but think about what kinds of messages endure anyway, beneath the surface story.
Essay Prompt Breakdown
To Kill a Mockingbird argues that empathy is courageous. Discuss.
Which brings us to a topic that is a bit knottier than it might first seem. Although empathy is shown to be courageous, particularly in the context of its setting, part of the novel’s message is also that courage can be fluid. This means that you might agree for a paragraph or two, emphasising the importance of context, before expanding on this idea of courage in the third.
Paragraph One: empathy can be a courageous trait in divisive times. Atticus says from early on that it’s important to “climb in [someone’s] skin and walk around in it” in order to better understand them. He initially says this about Walter Cunningham, but it’s a message that finds relevance all throughout—which occurs in parallel, of course, with his other lessons about courage, and how it can take different forms (as in Mrs. Dubose). Understood together, Lee suggests that empathy can in itself be a form of courage.
Paragraph Two: we’ve blended two themes together in the previous paragraph, but let’s bring in some context here. Empathy only stands out as being particularly courageous because of the historical milieu, in which people were not only racist, but allowed racist resentments to surface in the economic struggle of the Depression. In fact, these “resentments [were carried] right into a jury box” where people failed to display the very courage that Atticus consistently espouses.
Paragraph Three: that said, even if empathy is courageous, courage can take on many forms beyond just empathy. Consider Scout backing away from a fight with Cecil Jacobs (“I felt extremely noble”—and rightfully so) or the resilience of the First Purchase congregation in using their service to raise money “to help [Helen Robinson] out at home”. That these characters, Black and white, can hold their heads high and do the right thing in difficult times is also courageous.
Have a go
In your opinion, what is the most central and relevant message from To Kill a Mockingbird?
What is the role of innocence in To Kill a Mockingbird?
Lee argues that legal institutions are fraught with human bias—is this true?
In To Kill a Mockingbird, who pays the price for racism, and what do they lose?
Challenge: In To Kill a Mockingbird, how are isolation and loneliness different, and what is Lee suggesting about society in this regard?
To Kill A Mockingbird Essay Prompt Breakdown Video
Something that I want you to take away from this video is being able to develop a contention statement that is a complete, solid foundation for your essay. A lot of the time when I ask students what they’re trying to say in a specific section of their essay, they can’t really explain it, they’re just trying to put relevant evidence down. Ideally, it’s worth bearing in mind when you plan that you should be able to follow your logic back to the contention at any given point, even if you’re not that confident with the topic, and even if it wasn’t the topic you’re quite prepared for.
The topic we’ll be looking at is:
To Kill A Mockingbird is a story of courage. Discuss.
So ‘courage’ is the key word here, and the way we define it will shape our entire discussion. It generally means bravery and fearlessness, but what kinds of courage are explored in the novel? It could be anything from courage to do the ‘right’ thing, or courage to tell the truth, or courage to treat people with dignity even when you don’t know if they’ll treat you the same way.
Immediately, we can see that this is a theme-based prompt. To learn more about LSG's incredible Five Types Technique and how it can revolutionise how you approach VCE Text Response essays, have a read of this blog post.
For a prompt like this, you start building your contention based on these definitions, and this is handy if you’re better prepared for another theme. Let’s say you’re better prepped to write an essay on discrimination...
You could contend that the novel is indeed about courage, as Atticus not only teaches it to his children but also applies it to his defence of Tom Robinson in the face of structural racism. However, courage is also linked more broadly to empathy, which is explored as a panacea for discrimination. A complete contention like this breaks up your points neatly, but also grounds everything you have to say in an essay that still addresses the question and the idea of courage.
For example, paragraph one would start by looking at the forms of courage he teaches to his children. Part One, the more moralistic and didactic section of the novel ends with the idea that “real courage” isn’t “a man with a gun” but rather “when you know you're licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” The section is characterised by these lessons of “real courage”—while Atticus “One-Shot” Finch downplays his marksmanship, he focuses the children’s moral instruction on characters such as Mrs Dubose, who he admires as courageous for fighting her morphine addiction.
The next paragraph would look at Atticus’ actions and also the trial in a bit more detail, as he embodies this idea that real courage exists outside of physical daring. In the racist milieu of the Deep South at the time, juries rarely “decide in favour of a coloured man over a white man.” Yet, Atticus is determined to defend Tom even at the steep cost of his own personal honour or reputation. Not only does he teach his children about the importance of courage, but he goes on to exemplify those very lessons himself. Courage in this case reflects his commitment to the truth and to defending the innocent—“this boy’s not going till the truth is told.”
However, in the final paragraph we might take a bit of a turn. Atticus, in having the courage to see Tom as an equal, is probably reflecting another very important value in the novel—namely, empathy. Though he admires Mrs. Dubose for her “real courage”, the white camellia he gives to Jem represents the goodness he sees within her despite her discriminatory attitudes. Though Jem struggles to empathise with the “old devil”, Atticus posits that it takes a degree of courage to be the bigger person and see the best in others, rather than repeating cycles of discrimination and prejudice. The idea of empathy as a form of courage is also reflected in what he teaches them about Boo Radley. When Scout is terrified by the idea that he had given her a blanket without her realising, she “nearly threw up”—yet Atticus maintains the importance of empathising with people, “climb[ing] into another man’s shoes and walk[ing] around in it” rather than ostracising them. In other words, he sees empathy as a form of courage in being the first to break social stigmas and overcome the various forms of discrimination that separate us.
Now to touch base again with the take away message. We contended that the novel is about courage because Atticus teaches it to Scout and Jem while also representing it in the trial. We also contended that courage is linked to empathy, another key value that he imparts as it helps to overcome social barriers like discrimination. The aim was to build an essay on a contention that clearly props up the body of the essay itself, even when we were more confident with some other themes, and I think this plan does a pretty good job of covering that.
There Are Also Other Ways of Using Quotation Marks
Questions You Must Ask Yourself When Weaving Quotes into Sentences
How To Find Good Quotes
1. What Are Quotes?
Quotations, better known by their abbreviation ‘quotes’, are a form of evidence used in VCE essays. Using quotations in essays helps to demonstrate your knowledge of the text, and provides solid evidence for your arguments. The discussion on quotations in this study guide can be applied to all three areas of study in the VCAA English course which have been explained in detail in our Ultimate Guides to VCE Text Response, Comparative and Language Analysis.
A quotation is the repetition of a group of words taken from a text by someone other than the original author. The punctuation mark used to indicate a repetition of another author’s work is presented through quotation marks. These quotation marks are illustrated by inverted commas, either single inverted commas (‘ ’) or double inverted commas (“ ”). There is no general rule in Australia regarding which type of inverted comma you must use for quotations. Single inverted commas are preferred in Australia as they follow the British standard. The American standard involves styling quotations with the double inverted comma. You can choose either style, just be consistent in your essays.
2. Why Use Quotes?
The usage of quotations in essays demonstrates:
Your knowledge of the text
Credibility of your argument
An interesting and thoughtful essay
The strength of your writing skills.
However, quotations must be used correctly, otherwise you risk (and these frequent mistakes will be discussed in detail later):
Overcrowding or overloading of quotations
How You Integrate a Quote into an Essay Depends on Three Factors:
What you want to quote
How much you want to quote
How that quote will fit into your essay.
3. What You Want To Quote
As you discuss ideas in a paragraph, quotes should be added to develop these ideas further. A quote should add insight into your argument; therefore, it is imperative that the quote you choose relates intrinsically to your discussion. This is dependent on which aspect of the text you are discussing, for example:
Description of theme or character
Description of event or setting
Description of a symbol or other literary technique
Never quote just for the sake of quoting. Quotations can be irrelevant if a student merely adds in quotes as ‘sentence fillers’. Throwing in quotations just to make your essay appear more sophisticated will only be more damaging if the quotation does not adequately reinforce or expand on your contention. Conversely, an essay with no quotations will not achieve many marks either.
4. How Much You Want To Quote
A quotation should never tell the story for you. Quotations are a ‘support’ system, much like a back up for your ideas and arguments. Thus, you must be selective in how much you want to quote. Generally speaking, the absolute minimum is three quotes per paragraph but you should not overload your paragraphs either. Overcrowding your essay with too many quotations will lead to failure to develop your ideas, as well as your work appearing too convoluted for your assessor. Remember that the essay is your piece of work and should consist mainly of your own ideas and thoughts.
Single Word Quotations
The word ‘evaporates’, used to characterise money and happiness intends to instill the idea that happiness as a result of money is only temporary. (VCAA ‘Can Money Buy Happiness’ Language Analysis)
Single worded quotations can often leave the largest impression on the assessor. This is because you are able to demonstrate that you can focus on one word and develop an entire idea around it.
Sunil Badami ‘still found it hard to tie my Indian appearance to my Australian feeling', showing that for Sunil, his culture was not Indian, but Australian due to his upbringing. (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
A phrase quotation is the most common quotation length you will use in essays.
The multitudes of deaths surrounding Anna began to take its toll on her, burdening her with guilt as ‘sometimes, if I walked the main street of the village in the evening, I felt the press of their ghosts. I realised then that I had begun to step small and carry myself all hunched, keeping my arms at my sides and my elbows tucked, as if to leave room for them.’ (Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks)
Long quotations comprise of more than one sentence – avoid using them as evidence. Your assessor will not mark you highly if the bulk of your paragraphs consists of long quotations. You should aim to keep your quotations to less than 2 lines on an A4 writing page. If you have a long quotation you wish to use, be selective. Choose only the important phrases or key words, and remove the remaining sentence by replacing it with an ellipsis (…).
Here is the same example again, with the student using ellipsis:
The multitudes of deaths surrounding Anna began to take its toll on her, burdening her with guilt as she felt ‘the press of their ghosts…[and] begun to step small and carry myself all hunched…as if to leave room for them.’ (Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks)
In this case, we have deleted: ‘sometimes, if I walked the main street of the village in the evening’ and ‘I realised then that I had’ by using an ellipsis – a part of the quotation that is not missed because it does not represent the essence of the student’s argument. You would have noticed that a square bracket ([ ]) was used. This will be discussed in detail under Blending Quotes.
5. How That Quote Will Fit into Your Essay
You must never take the original author’s words and use them in your essay without inserting them in quotation marks. Failure to do so leads to ‘plagiarism’ or cheating. Plagiarism occurs when you take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. You must make sure that you use quotation marks whenever you use evidence from your text.
The following is plagiarism:
Even a single flicker of the eyes could be mistaken for the essential crime that contained all other crimes in itself – thought crime. (1984, George Orwell)
Using quotation marks however, avoids plagiarism:
Even ‘a single flicker of the eyes’ could be mistaken for ‘the essential crime that contained all other crimes in itself – thought crime.’ (1984, George Orwell)
There are serious consequences for plagiarism. VCAA will penalise students for plagiarism. VCAA uses statistical analysis to compare a student’s work with their General Achievement Test (GAT), and if the cross-referencing indicates that the student is achieving unexpectedly high results with their schoolwork, the student’s school will be notified and consequential actions will be taken.
Plagiarism should not be confused with:
Paraphrasing: to reword or rephrase the author’s words
Summarising: to give a brief statement about the author’s main points
Quoting: to directly copy the author’s words with an indication (via quotation marks) that it is not your original work
You should always aim to interweave quotations into your sentences in order to achieve good flow and enhanced readability of your essay. Below is a good example of blending in quotations:
John Proctor deals with his own inner conflict as he is burdened with guilt and shame of his past adulterous actions. Yet during the climatic ending of the play, Proctor honours his principles as he rejects signing a false confession. This situation where Proctor is confronted to ‘sign [himself] to lies’ is a stark epiphany, for he finally acknowledges that he does have ‘some shred of goodness.’ (The Crucible, Arthur Miller)
There are three main methods in how you can blend quotations into an essay:
1. Adding Words
Broken sentences are a common mistake made when students aim to integrate quotations into their sentences. Below are examples of broken sentences due to poor integration of a quotation:
‘Solitary as an oyster’. Scrooge is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Never write a sentence consisting of only a quotation. This does not add insight into your argument, nor does it achieve good flow or readability.
Scrooge, ‘solitary as an oyster’, is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
This example is better, however the sentence is still difficult to read. In order to blend quotations into your sentences, try adding in words that will help merge the quotation and your own words together:
Described as being as ‘solitary as an oyster’, Scrooge is illustrated as a person who is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Scrooge is depicted as a person who is ‘solitary as an oyster’, illustrating that he is isolated in his own sphere. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
Tip: If you remove the quotation marks, the sentence should still make sense.
2. Square Brackets ([ ])
These are used when you need to modify the original writer’s words so that the quotation will blend into your essay. This is usually done to:
Authors sometimes write in past (looked), present (look) or future tense (will look). Depending on how you approach your essay, you may choose to write with one of the three tenses. Since your tense may not always match the author’s, you will need to alter particular words.
Original sentence: ‘…puts his arm around Lewis’ shoulder’ (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
Upon seeing Lewis upset, Roy attempts to cheer him up by ‘put[ting] his arm around Lewis’ shoulder’. (Cosi, Louis Nowra)
Change Narrative Perspective
The author may write in a first (I, we), second (you) or third person (he, she, they) narrative. Since you will usually write from an outsider’s point of view, you will refer to characters in third person. Thus, it is necessary to replace first and second person pronouns with third person pronouns. Alternatively, you can replace first and second person pronouns with the character’s name.
The original sentence: ‘Only now can I recognise the scene for what it was: a confessional, a privilege that I, through selfishness and sensual addiction, failed to accept…’ (Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy)
When Keller was finally ready to share his brutal past with Paul, the latter disregarded the maestro, as he was too immersed in his own adolescent interests. However, upon reflection, Paul realises that ‘only now can [he] recognise the scene for what it was: a confessional, a privilege that [he], through selfishness and sensual addiction, failed to accept’. (Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy)
Insert Missing Words
Sometimes, it may be necessary to insert your own words in square brackets so that the quotation will be coherent when incorporated into your sentences.
The original sentence: ‘His heels glow.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
Achilles, like Priam, feels a sense of refreshment as highlighted by ‘his heels [which] glow.’ (Ransom, David Malouf)
It is important to maintain proper grammar while weaving in quotations. The question is: does the punctuation go inside or outside the final quotation mark?
The rule is: If the quoted words end with a full stop (or comma), then the full stop goes inside the quotation marks. If the quoted words do not end with a full stop, then the full stop goes outside the quotation marks.
Original sentence: 'Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres that went from the head waters of Darkey Creek all the way down to the river.’ (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
During the past decade, Thornhill became the wealthiest man in the area, owning ‘Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres that went from the head waters of Darkey Creek all the way down to the river.’ (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
During the past decade, Thornhill became the wealthiest man in the area, owning ‘Sagitty’s old place plus another hundred acres’. (The Secret River, Kate Grenville)
6. There Are Also Other Ways of Using Quotation Marks
Title of Text
When including the title of the text in an essay, use single quotation marks.
Directed by Elia Kazan, ‘On The Waterfront’ unveils the widespread corruption among longshoremen working at New Jersey docks. (On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan)
Alternatively, you can underline the title of the text instead of using single quotation marks. Many teachers and examiners prefer this option.
Quotation Within a Quotation
When you quote the author who is quoting someone else, then you will need to switch between single and double quotation marks. You firstly need to enclose the author’s words in single quotation marks, and then enclose the words they quote in double quotation marks. If you're following the American standard, you'll need to do this the opposite way - that is, using double quotation marks for the author's words and and then single quotation marks for the quote. We recommend sticking to the preferred Australian style though, which is single and then double.
Original sentence: ‘…something bitter and stringy, too difficult to swallow. “It’s just that – I – um, I hate it…It’s too – it’s too Indian!”’ (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
Sunil’s unusual name leads him to believe that it is ‘…something bitter and stringy, too difficult to swallow. “It’s just that – I – um, I hate it…It’s too – it’s too Indian!”’ (Sticks and Stones and Such-like, Sunil Badami in Growing Up Asian in Australia)
As you can see, the student has quoted the author’s words in single quotation marks. The dialogue used by the author is surrounded by double quotation marks. This demonstrates that the dialogue used in the text still belongs to the author.
Using Quotations to Express Irony
When you wish to express irony, you use quotation marks to illustrate that the implied meaning of the actual word or phrase is different to the normal meaning.
As a young girl, Elaine is a victim of Mrs Smeath and her so called ‘friends’. Her father’s interest in insects and her mother’s lack of housework presents Elaine as an easy bullying target for other girls her age who are fit to fulfill Toronto’s social norms. (Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood)
In this case, ‘friends’ is written in inverted commas to indicate that Elaine’s peers are not truly her friends but are in fact, bullies.
7. Questions You Must Ask Yourself When Weaving Quotes into Sentences
1. Does the quote blend into my sentence?
2. Does my sentence still make sense?
3. Is it too convoluted for my readers to understand?
4. Did I use the correct grammar?
8. How To Find Good Quotes
Tip One: Do not go onto Google and type in 'Good quotes for X text', because this is not going to work. These type of quotes are generally the most famous and the most popular quotes because, yes they are good quotes, but does that necessarily mean that it's going to be a good quote in your essay? Probably not. But why? Well, it's because these quotes are the most likely to be overused by students - absolutely every single person who has studied this text before you, and probably every single person who will study this text after you. You want to be unique and original. So, how are you going to find those 'good quotes'? Recognise which quotes are constantly being used and blacklist them. Quotes are constantly used in study guides are generally the ones that will be overused by students. Once you eliminate these quotes, you can then go on to find potentially more subtle quotes that are just as good as the more popular or famous ones.
Tip Two: Re-read the book. There is nothing wrong with you going ahead and finding your own quotes. You don't need to find quotes that already exist online or in study guides. Go and find whatever gels with you and whatever you feel like has a lot of meaning to it. I had a friend back in high school who was studying a book by Charles Dickens. I haven't read the book myself, but there was a character who couldn't pronounce the letter S, or he had a lisp of some sort. What my friend did was he found this one word where, throughout the entire book, the guy with the lisp only ever said the S one time and that was a massive thing. So, he used that. This is something that is really unique and original. So, go ahead and try to find your own quotes.
Tip Three: Realise that good quotes do not necessarily have to come from the main character. Yes, the main character does often have good quotes associated with whatever they're saying, but just know that you do have minor characters who can say something really relevant and have a really good point too. Their quote is going to be just as strong in your essay as a main character's quote, which will probably be overused and overdone by so many other students.
Tip Four: Develop a new interpretation of a famous or popular quote. Most of the time, the really popular quotes are analysed in very much the same way. But if you can offer a new insight into why it's being said or offer a different interpretation, then this is automatically going to create a really good quote that's going to offer a refreshing point of view.
For example, if we look at The Great Gatsby, one of the most famous quotes that is constantly being used is, 'He found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.' What most people will do is they will analyse the part about the 'grotesque thing a rose', because that's the most significant part of the quote that stands out. But what you could do instead, is focus on a section of that quote, for example the 'raw'. Why is the word raw being used? How does the word raw contribute extra meaning to this particular quote? This way you're honing in on a particular section of the quote and really trying to offer something new. This automatically allows you to investigate the quote in a new light.
Tip Five: Just remember that the best quotes do not have to be one sentence long. Some of the best quotes tend to be really short phrases or even just one particular word. Teachers actually love it when you can get rid of the excess words that are unnecessary in the sentence, and just hone in on a particular phrase or a particular word to offer an analysis. And also, that way, when you spend so much time analysing and offering insight into such a short phrase or one sentence, it shows how knowledgeable you are about the text and that you don't need to rely on lots and lots of evidence in order to prove your point.
Those are my five quick tips on how to find good quotes from your texts!
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that depicts the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jewish Holocaustsurvivor who experienced living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Nazi regime. Vladek’s son, Art has transformed his story into a comic book through his interviews and encounters which interweaves with Art’s own struggles as the son of a Holocaust survivor, as well as the complex and difficult relationship with his father.
Survival is a key theme that is explored during Vladek’s experience in concentration camps and his post-Holocaust life.
For example, Vladek reflects that “You have to struggle for life” and a means of survival was through learning to be resourceful at the concentration camps.
Resourcefulness is depicted through the physical items Vladek keeps or acquires, as well as through Vladek’s skills. For example, Vladek explains to Art that he was able to exploit his work constantly through undertaking the roles of a translator and a shoemaker in order to access extra food and clothing by being specially treated by the Polish Kapo.
He even wins over Anja’s Kapo to ensure that she would be treated well by not being forced to carry heavy objects. Vladek’s constant recounts and reflections symbolise survival, as Vladek was willing and able to use his skill set to navigate through the camp’s work system.
During the concentration camps, food and clothes also became a currency due to its scarcity and Vladek was insistent on being frugal and resourceful, which meant that he was able to buy Anja’s release from the Birkenau camp.
Although survival is a key theme, the graphic novel explores how Holocaust survivors in The Complete Maus grapple with their deep psychological scars.
Many of those who survived the war suffered from depression and was burdened with ‘survivor’s guilt’. This can be seen through the character of Art’s mother, Anja, as 20 years after surviving the death camps, she commits suicide. After having lost so many of her friends, and families, she struggled to find a reason as to why she survived but others didn’t. Throughout the graphic novel, her depression is apparent. In a close-up shot, Anja appears harrowed and says that “I just don’t want to live”, lying on a striped sofa to convey a feeling of hopelessness as if she was in prison. Her ears are additionally drawn as drooped, with her hands positioned as if she was in prison in the context is that she must go to a sanatorium for her depression.
It is not only Anja’s guilt that is depicted, but also Art himself who feels partly responsible. Art feels that people think it is his fault as he says that “They think it’s MY fault!” and in one panel, Art is depicted behind bars and that “[He] has committed the perfect crime“ to illustrate that he feels a sense of guilt in that he never really was the perfect son. He believes he is partly responsible for her death, due to him neglecting their relationship. Spiegelman also gives insight to readers of a memory of his mother where she asks if he still loves her, he responds with a dismissive ‘sure’ which is a painful reminder of this disregard.
Art constantly ponders how he is supposed to “make any sense out of Auschwitz’ if he “can’t even make any sense out of [his] relationship with [his] father”. As a child of Jewish refugees, Art has not had the same first-hand horrific experiences as his parents and in many instances struggles to relate to Vladek’s stubborn and resourceful tendencies. Art reflects on this whilst talking to Mala about when he would not finish everything his mother served, he would “argue til I ran to my room crying”. This emphasises how he didn’t understand wastage or frugality even from a very young age, unlike Vladek.
Spiegelman also conveys to readers his sense of frustration with Vladek where he feels like he is being treated like a child, not as an adult. For example, Art is shocked that Vladek would throw out one of Art’s coats and instead buy a new coat, despite Vladek’s hoarding because he is reluctant and feels shameful to let his son wear his “old shabby coat”. This act could be conveyed to readers that Vladek is trying to give Art a life he never had and is reluctant to let his son wear clothes that are ‘inappropriate’ in his eyes. However, from Art’s perspective, he “just can’t believe it” and does not comprehend his behaviour.
Since we're talking about themes, we've broken down a theme-based essay prompt (one of five types of essay prompts) for you in this video:
3. Analysing Techniques in Visual Texts
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that may seem daunting to analyse compared to a traditional novel. However, with countless panels throughout the book, you have the freedom to interpret certain visuals so long as you give reasoning and justification, guiding the teacher or examiner on what you think these visuals mean. Here are some suggested tips:
Focus on the Depiction of Characters
Spiegelman may have purposely drawn the eyes of the Jewish mice as visible in contrast to the unapparent eyes of the Nazis to humanise and dehumanise characters. By allowing readers to see the eyes of Jewish mice, readers can see the expressions and feelings of the character such as anger and determination. Effectively, we can see them as human characters through their eyes. The Nazis’ eyes, on the other hand, are shaded by their helmets to signify how their humanity has been corrupted by the role they fulfill in the Holocaust.
When the readers see their eyes, they appear sinister, with little slits of light. By analysing the depictions and expressions of characters, readers can deduce how these characters are intended to be seen.
Look at the Background in Each Panel
Throughout the graphic novel, symbols of the Holocaust appear consistently in the background. In one panel, Art’s parents, Anja and Vladek have nowhere to go, a large Swastika looms over them to represent that their lives were dominated by the Holocaust.
Even in Art’s life, a panel depicts him as working on his desk with dead bodies surrounding him and piling up to convey to the reader that the Holocaust still haunts him to this day, and feels a sense of guilt at achieving fame and success at their expense.
Thus, the constant representation of symbols from the Holocaust in Spiegelman’s life and his parents’ past in the panels’ background highlights how inescapable the Holocaust is emotionally and psychologically.
Size of Panels
Some of the panels in the graphic novel are of differentsizes which Spiegelman may have intended to emphasise the significance of certain turning points, crises or feelings. For example, on page 34, there is a disproportionate panel of Vladek and Anja passing a town, seeing the first signs of the Nazi regime compared to the following panels. All the mice seem curious and concerned, peering at the Nazi flag behind them. This panel is significant as it marks the beginning of a tragic regime that would dominate for the rest of their lives.
You should also pay close attention to how some panels have a tendency to overlap with each other which could suggest a link between events, words or feelings.
Like a House on Fire is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
1. Historical Context
Kennedy’s anthology of fifteen short stories, Like a House on Fire, explores the impacts of familial and social issues on an individual’s sense of identity and humanity, illustrating the vast spectrum of human condition. Having lived a majority of her life in Victoria, Australia, Kennedy’s collection follows the stories of various protagonists whose voices are characteristic of Australian culture and society. As the text is set in the backdrop of rapid Australian modernisation, the novel also depicts the paradoxical nature of technology, as various characters are depicted to be torn between confronting or embracing this fundamental change. Despite approaching the stories of characters conflicted by modern and social challenges with both humour and cynicism, Kennedy’s lack of judgement is notable; it is with this empathetic stance that she is able to the universal nature of human emotions to her readership.
Kennedy explores the theme of identity mainly through physical injury, as various characters with physical trauma find themselves to be agonisingly limited within the confines of their condition. In Like a House on Fire, the narrator’s sense of identity becomes intertwined with his subsequently decreased masculinity, as his back injury leaves him unable to physically take care of his family, and his wife begins to undertake stereotypically masculine roles within the household. In tandem with this, Roley’s wife in Little Plastic Shipwreck is rendered humourless and witless due to her brain injury, distorting her once enthusiastic self into one shadowed by her illness; further emphasising the link between physical and mental identity.
Order and Disorder
The inherent tension between order and chaos is continually examined throughout the anthology, particularly in Like a House on Fire, in which perfectionistic order and scatter minded disorder are embodied in the unnamed narrator and his wife respectively. As the two individuals are unable to establish a compromise between their contrasting personalities, Kennedy suggests that this lack of cooperation is the core reason for the deterioration of their marriage, and their subsequent misery. The notion of disorder is also symbolised by the domestic setting itself, as Kennedy depicts various characters who feel pervasive ennui and dissatisfaction within the ‘chaotic mess’ of their household environments.
Each protagonist in the collection is portrayed as possessing some object of longing, whether it be material or emotional. Kennedy utilises scattered verses of prose within her writing to communicate these human desires, building upon their significance poetically. In Static, Anthony attempts to negotiate his own wishes with those of his wife and family, leading him to wonder whether anything present in his life has been created by his own will or merely his eagerness to please others. His desire for various types of happiness, embodied in material concepts such as money or children, suggest that the human condition is built upon the foundation of dissatisfaction; that innate longing is what ultimately defines us as human.
The theme of love is present in each story of the collection, often used as an instrument through which the characters can heal and grow from their physical or spiritual pain. While suggesting that true love endures all hardship in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy also illustrates the various sacrifices one must make in order to protect the ones you love. Such is depicted in Five-Dollar Family, as a new mother makes the difficult decision of leaving her ‘loser’ boyfriend to give her child a chance at the best life possible, despite the unfortunate situation he has been born into.
The vital importance of communication within families is emphasised in the anthology, as the lack of effective communication perceivably exacerbates dysfunctional relationships. The crushing regret of a son is explored in Ashes, as he laments his lack of communication with his father who he can no longer speak to. However, Kennedy empathetically depicts the difficulty of communicating potentially painful messages to loved ones in Waiting, as the protagonist anxiously agonises over the prospect of telling her husband that she may have another miscarriage following an excruciating string of lost children.
In tandem with longing, Kennedy asserts that empathy is vital to the survival and happiness of a human being. This notion is aptly depicted in Little Plastic Shipwreck, in which the death of Samson the popular show dolphin results in Roley’s revelation of his manager’s complete lack of empathy, and subsequently the abundance of his own. Similarly, the salient importance of empathy is emphasised in Flexion, as the cold-heated and harsh victim of a brutal tractor incident repairs his marriage by allowing himself to feel more empathy for those who have supported his recovery and been understanding of his bitterness.
The anthology centres around the concept of family, as both dramatic events unfold directly due to altercations and misunderstanding within the household. By depicting both the dramatic and mundane events that contribute to creating dysfunctional families, Kennedy asserts that kindness and understanding is vital to the maintenance of a healthy and loving family. The power of family is also depicted in Like a House on Fire, as the protagonist’s dissatisfaction with life is instantly washed away by the actions of his children, who remind him that despite his life-threatening injury, his family is his constant source of love and support.
Question 1: ‘Gender plays no role in the tragic identities of the characters in Like a House on Fire.’ To what extent do you agree?
Suggested contention: Despite the ubiquitous nature of hardship, the short stories of Like a House on Fire explore the effect of gender roles on individuals’ sense of self-worth.
Body paragraph 1:
Pain is depicted to have no partiality to either gender in Like a House on Fire.
Much of the trauma explored throughout the anthology is a result of lack of emotional connection or familial misunderstanding arising through individual actions, rather than due to stereotypes associated with gender.
Kennedy suggests that there is no gender more at fault for these issues, but rather that it is mindset that determines one’s identity and fate, especially in relationships. For example, just as the protagonist’s wife in Flexion makes the mistake of cruelly wielding her physical dominance over her husband, the passive boyfriend in Five-Dollar Family is cruel in his apathy toward his girlfriend and their newborn baby.
Body paragraph 2:
Despite this, Kennedy explores the social views that plague men as a result of their gender, compelling to limit their identity to meet these fatal expectations.
The concept of masculinity is explored throughout the collection, often presented as an inferiority complex for many male protagonists due to their physical disabilities. The societal idea that men should be physically strong in order to be able to provide for his family is heavily condemned in Like a House on Fire, as Kennedy depicts the destructive consequences of such on one’s sense of self-worth.
For example, the narrator of Like a House on Fire perceives his own physical weakness as unmanly, and subsequently himself as an unfit and useless father. As he is unable to pick up the family’s Christmas tree, the tree seller looks towards him with disdainful judgment, perceiving the protagonist’s wife lifting the tree to be ‘destroying the social fabric’.
In addition to this, the narrator’s extreme attempt to physically help the family results in the destruction of the precious family nativity scene, symbolising the idea that social constructs of masculinity inevitably ends in destruction, as the narrator’s inability to recognise his physical limitations only exacerbates the problem.
Body paragraph 3:
In tandem with this, the collection of short stories also examines the social limitations placed upon women solely due to their gender.
The difficulty for women to balance their roles of mother and career woman is explored in Cake, in which the protagonist Liz fails to separate one from the other, leading her to feel dissatisfaction in both. Kennedy ostensibly denounces the social expectations of women to be domestic helpers, as Liz faces judgement at work for bearing a child, whereas her husband is exempt from any judgement despite it also being his son.
The complicated and personal concept of pregnancy is further depicted in Waiting, as the protagonist agonises over the fact that she may lose another child due to a miscarriage. As the fear of disappointing others takes over her own pain and anguish, readers of the collection are invited to consider the harrowing expectations placed on women to be successful mothers.
Question 2: ‘Like a House on Fire shows that family relationships are never perfect.’ Do you agree?
Suggested contention: Through the constant depiction of dysfunctional families in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy asserts the importance of communication and empathy in repairing broken relationships, and suggests that perfect families are unrealistic.
Body paragraph 1:
Every story in the collection depicts a family undergoing some kind of hardship, whether it be financial, emotional or spiritual. Through her depiction of broken families, Kennedy suggests that emotional stress and tension within families is sometimes inevitable, even in a loving and supportive environment.
The title of the collection, Like a House on Fire, is emblematic of the dual nature of families, as while the phrase symbolises the chaos and disorder of one’s family dynamic, it also symbolises the love and extreme passion that often coexists alongside it.
For example, while the protagonist in Like a House on Fire reminisces upon the ‘fiery’ sexual and emotional happiness of their marriage, he also deplores their current period of domestic stress, describing it as a ‘house on fire’.
Body paragraph 2:
Kennedy depicts the need for family members to engage in open and honest communication with one another to overcome the effects of trauma.
For example, in Ashes, Chris is only able to find closure by finally understanding the mindset off his parents through effective communication. His newly found ability to express his true emotions to his mother allows him to finally perceive the grief that was masked by her supposedly ‘cruel’ actions, and subsequently finally achieve a stable relationship with her.
Body paragraph 3:
Kennedy also advocates for the exercise of empathy between family members in order to find harmony within dysfunction.
This is apparent in Flexion, in which the seemingly emotionless protagonist and his wife undergo their respective journeys of expressing empathy for the other. As their marriage significantly improves due to their increased understanding of each other, Kennedy promotes the importance of vulnerability and openness within families.
Beyond the Basics:
How does Kennedy’s short story format add to the reader’s understanding of the themes uncovered in the novel?
The range of diverse, Australian voices depicted in the anthology work to portray the vast spectrum of the human condition.
The concise narrative present in each of the fifteen stories work to provide the readership with an extremely personal point of view that emphasises the emotions and mindset of the protagonist, furthering the sense of authorial empathy and compassion.
It is through this almost voyeuristic advantage we subsequently possess as readers, that we are able to fully understand the depth of each character’s humanity and sense of identity, as well as the various struggles that follow the course of an individual’s life.
Kennedy’s ordering of the short stories also contributes to the reader’s depth of understanding. There is no apparent chronological order present in the collection, but rather a varied order of stories, depicting its diverse range of voices. For example, while the key themes and tones of the anthology remain consistent throughout, other factors such as age, gender and life experience of the protagonist vary in order to provide contrasting character viewpoints.
As such, this variation in narrative voice allows Kennedy to present her stories as universal human experiences, emphasising the ubiquitous nature of the themes present in Like a House on Fire.
Finally, the varied structure within each individual story lends an optimistic tone that underscores the entirety of Kennedy’s work. While some stories such as Flexion begin with the inciting event, others emphasise the chain of events that occur in leading up to the key event, as depicted in Ashes. As the undertones of hope and faith are present throughout the collection, the varied plot structure of each story allows Kennedy to assert that no matter the circumstance of hardship, one can always find a glimpse of optimism within its depths.
In Like a House on Fire, Kennedy illustrates that perfect families do not exist, and that family dysfunction is inevitable. To what extent do you agree?
The characters in Like a House on Fire are largely defined by social expectations of their gender. Discuss.
In Like a House on Fire, how does Kennedy show that in even times of hardship, human strength will prevail?
‘The range of narrative points of views used in Like a House on Fire illustrate the characters’ deeply personal responses to life’s challenges.’ Discuss.
‘…As the lifetime habit of keeping his responses to himself closed his mouth in a firm and well-worn line.’ How does Kennedy present communication as a key issue in the relationships in Like a House on Fire?
If you'd like to see A+ essays on these essay topics, complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+ so you can emulate this same success, then you'll definitely want to check out our Like a House on Fire Study Guide! In it, we also cover advanced discussions on topics like authorial views and values, symbols and motifs and context completely broken down into easy-to-understand concepts so you can smash your next SAC or exam! Check it out here.
For many students, Language Analysis is their downfall. Here is the main reason why: Lots of students don’t think about how language is used to persuade, instead they rely on lists of language techniques to tell them the answer. These sheets are usually distributed by teachers when you first start language analysis – see below.
Whether or not you’ve seen that particular document before, you’ve probably got something similar. You’ve also probably thought, ‘this sheet is absolutely amazing – it has everything I need and it tells me how language persuades!’ – I know I did. Unfortunately, this mindset is wrong. Don’t fall into the trap like so many other students have over the years. For a detailed guide on Language Analysis including how to prepare for your SAC and exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Language Analysis.
The following comes from VCAA 2009 English Assessment Report:
…some students presented a simple summary [when analysing]…with little development. These responses did not score well as they did not fulfil the task as required.
The ‘simple summary’ refers to students who rely on those technique sheets to paraphrase the explanations regarding how language persuades. There is ‘little development’ because copying the explanations provided on these sheets doesn’t demonstrate enough insight into the article you’re analysing. Let’s have a look at the VCAA English Practice Exam published in 2009, ‘Chickens Range Free’ so that we can demonstrate this point. We will look at two students, both analysing the same technique. Compare the two and determine who you believe provides the better analysis.
Student 1: Emotive language such as “abominably cruel” and “dire plight” is intended to stimulate strong emotional reactions that manipulate readers’ responses.
Student 2: The use of emotive language such as “abominably cruel” and “dire plight” intends to appeal to people’s instinctive compassion for the chickens by describing their dreadful treatment, hence causing readers to agree with Smith that urgent action is required to save these animals.
It should be clear that Student 2’s example is best. Let’s see why.
Student 1 has determined the correct language technique and found suitable evidence from the article. This is a good start. However, Student 1 goes on to merely reiterate the explanations provided by language technique sheets and as a result, their analysis is too broad and non-specific to the article.
Student 2 conversely, understands that this last step – the analysing part – is the most important and vital component that will distinguish themselves from others. Instead of merely quoting that the article ‘manipulates the reader response’ like student 1, they provide an in-depth analysis of howand why reader feelings are manipulated because of this technique. Student 2 was able to use the information to illustrate the author’s contention that we should feel sorry for these caged chickens – and we do because of our ‘instinctive compassion.’ They explain that the sympathy expressed from readers encourages them to agree that some action needs to be taken to help the chickens. As you can see, Student 2 has gone beyond identifying that ‘strong emotional reactions’ will be displayed by readers, to establishing what emotions are involved, and the consequences of those emotions.
This is why it’s best to avoid paraphrasing language technique sheets. By all means, don’t totally disregard them altogether. They’re definitely great for learning new language techniques – just be mindful of the explanations given. The part regarding how the author persuades is the downfall of many students because even though teachers tell you to analyse more, they often don’t show you the difference between what you’re doing wrong and what you should be doing right.
We've all been there. You're moments away from having to deliver your 5-6 minute long oral to all of your classmates and your teacher, and you're still trying to memorise that one bit that you just can't seem to get down pat. It sucks.
For many VCE English students, the oral presentation is the scariest part of the course; it’s often also the first.
Doing a speech can indeed be daunting— you’re marked in real time, you can’t go back and edit mistakes, and the writing part itself is only half the battle. Nonetheless, the oral SAC can also be one of the more dynamic and engaging tasks you complete in VCE English, and there’s plenty of ways to make it more interesting and also more manageable for yourself.
We’ll break the whole process down into three parts (don’t worry, one of these will be the delivery itself) and have a look at ways to tackle each; hopefully, you’ll feel more empowered to give it a go on your own terms. Don't forget to also check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for everything you need to know for Oral Presentations.
Part One: Choosing a good topic
(In this section—researching events & issues, topic ideas)
In the study design, the description that’s given for the Oral Presentation is:
“A point of view presented in oral form using sound argument and persuasive language. The point of view should relate to an issue that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year.”
Besides this restriction on how current/recent your issue is, the expectations themselves for this task are pretty standard (and therefore pretty broad): you
select a topic or point of view
research arguments and supporting evidence; and
position the audience accordingly in your speech
Getting started on this first part can be tricky though, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.
In any case, the first thing you need is an event. As a reminder, an event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage—so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.
You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.
So where do you find an event? If you can’t think of a particularly interesting one right away, you could always try Wikipedia. Seriously, Wikipedia very helpfully has pages of things that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2019 in Australia” might well be a starting point. The ABC news archive is also really helpful since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then.
I wouldn’t underestimate your own memory here either. Maybe you attended the School Strike for Climate and/or you feel vaguely disappointed in the government. Maybe there was something else happening in the news you remember (even though it is often about the environment these days). It doesn’t have to be from the news though—maybe there was a movie or TV show you watched recently that you have thoughts about. You could really do a speech on any of these, as long as you suspect there might be recent, opinionated media coverage.
Only once you have an event should you look for an issue. This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister, whether or not it’s appropriate to discuss policy already when people are still grieving. All of these issues are going to be more current and more focused than just ‘climate change’, so pick one that resonates for your speech. For a list of 2019-20 issue-debate breakdowns (i.e. topic ideas!), give this a read!
From there, you might delve a little deeper into viewpoints around your chosen issue, and you’d do this mostly by reading opinion or analysis articles (rather than hard news reports). Opinion is great to see what other people are thinking, and could help you bolster or reinforce your own arguments, whereas analysis is good to get a little deeper into the implications of and evidence behind the issue. The actual contention itself comes last—even though you might already have an idea what you think about the issue, you’ll be best prepared to articulate it after doing the research first.
Part Two: Writing a good speech
(In this section—register/tone selection, personas, openings, how formal you need to be, drafting & rehearsing)
For this part of the task, I’d keep in mind a specific snippet of its description: the need to use sound argument and persuasive language.
To be fair, persuasive language mightn’t necessarily be something you actively think about when you write persuasively—you wouldn’t ever really be like “hey, this is a great spot to include an appeal to compassion.” However, while you don’t need to start now, it’s good to have in mind a general register for your speech before you start. It’s one of the first things you might analyse in a written essay for good reason—it’s broad and it sets the tone for your argument/s.
With the bushfires for instance, you might contend that even though grief is a strong emotion, it should also be a trigger for resolute, permanent policy reform. But will you come from a frustrated, this-is-what-we’ve-been-saying-for-years register, or a compassionate look-at-the-damage-caused register, or an assertive, we-need-to-bring-the-community-together-first register?
Maybe you can incorporate a bit of each, or maybe (probably) there are more options, but in any case, making this decision first will help with stringing together arguments and incorporating more persuasive language techniques (PLTs). Note that most PLTs can be used across a number of registers, but there are some that might work more effectively with some of these.
Climate activists have been stating the facts for years now; we suffered more extensive damage this bushfire season than ever before and our politicians are still clinging to coal; if this doesn’t trigger change, what will?
Statistics + other evidence
Attacks (on government, climate denialists etc.)
Calls to action
There’s been so much damage, and grief is an understandable and necessary response; if we don’t do something now though, how many more years will we have to suffer through the same (if not worse)?
Appeals to sympathy
Anecdotes (especially if you adopt a persona)
Never before has the community been so united on combating an issue; even international communities are involved; we have to take advantage of how the issue has brought everyone together to enact meaningful, permanent change now.
Generalisations (ALL Australians want change)
Appeals to community and/or hope, optimism
These are things you’ll have to think about for your written explanations, and might also help you shape future research if you need to shore up the speech a little more.
Something you may consider as well is adopting a persona, that is a character and a context for your speech. You don’t have to, but it may help you get started. It can be hard to just write a speech from scratch, but if you’re the mayor of a township affected by the fires and you’re outlining a course of action, it’ll help with your register and outlook.
Openings in general can be tricky though. Try to avoid stating your event, issue and contention outright—the audience doesn’t need to know that “recently, Australia experienced a horrific bushfire season and I’m going to talk about why now is the time to act on climate change.” They’ll figure it out.
Instead, try to start with something that clearly communicates your register and/or persona (if you have one). If you’re a frustrated climate activist, start by illustrating the historical patterns of bushfires getting worse and worse. If you’re a compassionate community-builder, start with anecdotes of the damage. If you’re an assertive leader, explain who you are, what your experience is and how you want to create change. Don’t worry if you feel like the issue won’t be clear enough—again, they’ll figure it out!
The opening also sets the bar for formality in your speech, and it’s honestly up to you how formal you’ll want to be. As a rule of thumb, don’t be so formal that you can’t use contractions (such as “you’ll” and “can’t”)—avoid those in essays for sure, but they’re a natural part of speaking and it’ll feel strange if you don’t use them.
I’d also recommend you draft and rehearse in front of others, highlighting areas where you think are the weakest and asking them for specific advice on those sections at the end. Having specific questions to ask, such as “should I include more data/quantitative evidence in x section?” or “is this specific appeal to x obvious enough?”, also means you get better feedback (since these are much easier to answer than “Was that fine?”).
Part Three: Delivering an engaging presentation
(In this section—body language, eye contact, rehearse rehearse rehearse, tone variation)
Most of you probably find this the most daunting part of the SAC—honestly, me too—but this is the part with the most tried-and-tested tips for success.
With regard to body language, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and, more importantly don’t move your legs. Especially if you’re nervous, swaying or shuffling will be noticeable and make you appear more nervous—when you practise, pay attention to the lower half of your body and train it to stay still if possible. That being said, do use your arms for gestures. Those are more natural and will help engage the audience, though don’t overdo it either—usually, holding cue cards in one hand frees up the other but also stops you from going overboard.
And cue cards brig us up to another important consideration—eye contact. Hold cue cards in one hand as high as you can without it feeling uncomfortable. This means you don’t have to take your eyes away from the audience for too long or too noticeably to check your notes.
Of course, knowing your speech better means having to check your notes less frequently. When I did my speech, I’d read it out aloud to myself 3-5 times a day for a week or two in advance, which made me feel like I was going insane but also meant that my speech was basically memorised. The cue cards were there in case of emergency, but I really didn’t need them at all. Absolutely make sure to rehearse your speech.
Further, when you rehearse, try to pretend that you’re actually delivering the speech. This means:
looking up ahead
holding the cue cards in the right spot; and
not just reading the words but speaking as if to an audience.
This last point is really important—tone variation might come naturally to some but not to others. I always found that building it into rehearsal helped with getting it consistent and natural. Tone variation involves things like emphasising certain words, using pauses or slowing down for effect, or modifying volume. Incorporating some of these elements—even writing them into your notes by bolding/italicising/underlining—will help you break out of monotony and make the speech more engaging as well. Be sure to emphasise things like emotive language and any evidence you might use to illustrate your arguments.
And one last thing—don’t speak too quickly! Easier said than done, but often the icing on the cake for a speech that is memorable for the right reasons.
Wondering where to go from here? Well, luckily, my eBook, How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation, details my exact step-by-step process so you can get that A+ in your SAC this year.
Access a step-by-step guide on how to write your Oral Presentation with simple, easy-to-follow advice
Read and analyse sample A+ Oral Presentations with EVERY speech annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY students achieved A+ so you reach your goal
Learn how to stand out from other students with advice on your speech delivery
Sounds like something that'd help you? I think so too! Access the full eBook by clicking here!
Being one of the few texts that was added to the text list this year, Euripides’ play Women of Troy is definitely a daunting task for English and EAL students to tackle due to the lack of resources and essay prompts available. In fact, the only materials that can be found on the internet are those analysing the older translation of the play (titled The Trojan Women). That is why we are here to help you as much as we can by offering you a mini-guide for Women of Troy, in the hope that you can get a head start with this play.
Women of Troy is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
LSG-Curated Essay Topics
A+ Essay Topic Breakdown
Women of Troy is a tragedy which takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Trojan war, critiquing the atrocities committed by the Greeks to both people of Melos and Troy. By constructing a play in which women are able to dominate the stage and exude their genuine despair in response to their impending enslavement, Euripides shifts the perspectives from epic tales of Greek and Trojan male heroes to the conversely affected women who suffered at the hands of the heroes, while simultaneously providing both the contemporary and modern audience with a unique insight into the true cost of war. This is especially significant because the society was pervaded by patriarchal values, where women were subordinated to their male counterparts. Euripides’ proto-feminist works were not well received by his peers at the time of writing as women’s personal thoughts and pain were not commonly discussed in the Hellenic repertoire.
2. Historical Context
The Trojan war occurred as a result of the conflict between Greece and Troy and was said to last for over 10 years. According to a tale, during a festival on the Olympus, Athena, Aphrodite and Hera were fighting over a golden apple. They chose a random mortal, which was Paris who would then be the Prince of Troy, to decide who the most beautiful goddess of the three was. As a reward for picking her, Aphrodite promised Paris that he would be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, which was Helen – wife of Menelaus, the Spartan prince. Aphrodite had her son Eros (a cupid) enchant Helen and Paris so that they would fall endlessly in love with each other. Helen then escaped from Menelaus’ palace to be with Paris, starting the war between Greece and Troy. Menelaus was enraged and he convinced his brother Agamemnon to lead an expedition to retrieve Helen. The Greek army was commanded to attack the Trojans. The siege lasted for more than 10 years until the Greeks came up with a strategy to abduct Helen from the palace. The Greek soldiers build a giant wooden horse and hid in there to get in the citadel of Troy, attacking them in the middle of the night and winning the war. After the war, the Greek heroes slowly made their way home, however, the journey home was not easy. Odysseus took 10 years to make the arduous journey home to Ithaca because Poseidon agreed to punish the Greeks for the atrocities committed before and after their victory.
Love and Lust
Euripides’ works often warn the audience of the detrimental effects brought on by excessive passion, asserting that it is best to moderate emotions and exhibit sophrosyne (the power of self-control over one’s emotions). He often criticises the goddess of love, Aphrodite, for enchanting mortals and leading them into a life governed by love and lust. In this play, he purports that it is inherently Aphrodite’s fault that the Trojans are fighting against the Greeks, as it is Aphrodite who makes Paris and Helen endlessly fall in love with each other.
Potential Textual Evidence:
In Women of Troy, Euripides presents a particularly acerbic critique on Menelaus’ 'uncontrollable lust' in 'sen[ding] a hunting party to track down Helen' as he juxtaposes the cost of the Trojan war being and the prize that they receive.
'tens of thousands dead'
'giving up the pleasure of his family and children'
'these Greeks [beginning] to die'
→ All that in exchange for one woman - Helen
His chastisement is further bolstered by Cassandra’s rhetorical question asking 'they kept on dying, for what reason'. This manoeuvres the audience into acknowledging the pointlessness of the Trojan war as it is not worth risking so many lives over Helen or any minor military conflict. In doing so, Euripides once again lambastes the actions of those vindictive and bloodthirsty Greeks.
Cost of War
The play primarily focuses on the loss and pain of the Trojan civilians that survived the war, are sieged in the city after the war and are eventually either killed or enslaved after the fall of Troy. While the Trojan war is the setting of many famous classical works being examined by various different angles, not many focus on the consequences suffered by women. This enables Euripides to raise the question of whether or not such victory is worth fighting for while simultaneously inviting the audience to emulate the playwright’s disapprobation of such a violent and brutal resolution of conflict.
You can also use the evidence from the above to justify your arguments on the cost of war. They all aim to magnify the extent to which the Trojan people, as well as the Greeks, have to suffer as result of this pointless war.
Potential Textual Evidence:
We can also discuss how wars affect beliefs and their people’s faith. In the Hellenic society, gods have always been a significant part of their life as it is believed that mortals’ lives are always under the influence of divine intervention. This is evidenced through the ways in which Hellenic people build temples and make sacrifices to the gods, thanking the gods for allowing them to live prosperous lives and begging for their forgiveness whenever they wrong others. This is why it is significant when Hecuba referred to the gods as 'betrayers' in her lamentation, implying that there is a change in attitude in time of tragedy. Events such as this make people question their fate and belief, galvanising them to wonder 'what good [gods] were to [them].
Integrity and Sense of Duty
Some characters in Women of Troy are also fundamentally driven by their sense of duty and integrity, and act according to their moral code regardless of what the circumstances may be. Hecuba, for instance, sympathises with the Chorus of Troy and acts as a leader even when she loses her title and her home. She is held responsible for her actions but is still governed by her honesty and integrity as Helen makes her plea. Talthybius is also governed by both his sense of duty and integrity. Despite his understanding of Hecuba’s circumstances, he still follows his order and ensures that the Trojan women are allocated to their Greek households. However, he does not disregard her sense of morality and treats Hecuba with understanding and sensitivity.
Helen, on the other hand, does not demonstrate the same degree of moral uprightness. In time of tragedy, she chooses to lie and shift the blame to others to escape her execution. She prioritises her own benefits over everyone else’s and allows thousands of others to suffer from the impacts of her treachery in eloping with Paris.
The prologue of the play opens with a conversation between Poseidon and Athena, foreshadowing their divine retribution against the Greeks. Witnessing the immediate aftermath of the Trojan war, they curse the war which they ironically themselves initiated, thus condemning the horrific injustice of the conflict and the actions of its vengeful and blood thirsty so-called heroes. This is evidenced through the ways in which they punished Odysseus by creating obstacles on his journey home.
However, it can also be argued that the gods in Women of Troy themselves act as a symbol of injustice in a way. From the feminist view, the fall of Troy and the enslavement of Trojan women demonstrate the gods’ lack of care as they disregard the monstrosities that occur to women after the Greeks’ victory. The divine intervention which is promised in the beginning casts the following injustices cursed upon the women of Troy in a different light as it can be argued that the gods caused the war. While their retribution against the Greeks can be seen as a means to punish the heroes, it is evident that that they are more concerned about the sacrilege committed and the disrespect they receive after the Trojan war than the injustices suffered by women. This thereby humanises the gods and fortifies the notion that they also have personal flaws and are governed by their ego and hubris.
The idea that there are forces beyond human control is enhanced, and Poseidon and Athena’s pride proves that humans are just innocent bystanders at the mercy of the gods. It can be argued that the chain of unfortunate events are unpredictable as they are determined by gods, whose emotions and prejudices still control the way they act. On the other hand, the characters in the play do at times make choices that would lead to their downfall and tragic consequences. For instance, it is Menelaus who decided to go after the Trojans just because of one woman and he was not enchanted or under any influence of divine intervention.
Euripides centres his play on Trojan women, enabling the discussion on the cause and effect of war. Given that females' points of view were not commonly expressed in plays or any forms of art works, Euripides’ decision to have his play focus on women allows the Athenian audience, comprised of mainly male Athenians, to observe a part of the military conflict that was not seen before.
The protagonist Hecuba, for example, is portrayed as the archetypal mother. While this image is presented during the aftermath of the Trojan war, Euripides also uses Hecuba as a representative of contemporary Hellenic women as this archetype is universal for all circumstances. It is evident that Euripides’ play mainly focuses on Hecuba’s grief, with her lamentation dominating the prologue. This implies that the protagonist, in this instance, also acts as a diatribe against the patriarchal society which allows women to suffer greatly as a result of war and military conflict. However, this play differs from other plays written by Euripides in that he also explores a woman’s burden and responsibility as a leader, allowing the audience to understand the difficulties of being a woman of power in time of crisis.
Mother of Troy
Potential Textual Evidence:
In employing the simile comparing herself to 'a mother bird at her plundered nest', Hecuba reminds the audience of her endless love for the city of Troy, implying that the devastation of her own home also further deepens her pain. In this scene, Hecuba is portrayed as a female leader who rules with her passion and love.
The image her (Hecuba) as an empathetic Queen is also exemplified through the ways in which she 'weep[s] for [her] burning home'. As the term 'home' invokes connotations of warmth and affection, Hecuba’s endearment for the city she governs is established, accentuating the portrayal of Hecuba as a leader with a passion for her duties.
This in turn propels the audience to be more inclined to feel commiseration for her when she is held responsible for her city’s destruction. As the representative of Troy’s leadership that enables such brutality to occur leading to the wars, Hecuba bears the guilt and responsibility for '[giving] birth to all the trouble by giving birth to Paris' and consequently, for the cataclysmic consequences that ramified from Paris’ involvement with Helen (although she is simply an innocent bystander) → Social accountability for war
Mother of Her Children
Potential Textual Evidence:
From the outset of the play, the former queen of Troy is portrayed as a miserable mother suffering from the loss of her own children and 'howl[ing] for her children dead' (echoed by the Chorus, referred to as 'howl of agony'). By employing animalistic language in describing Hecuba’s act of mourning over Hector’s death, Euripides intensifies the magnitude of her emotional turmoil as it is likened to a loud and doleful cry usually uttered by animals → It is almost not humanly possible to endure so much pain.
This notion is bolstered by the image of Hecuba drowning in 'her threnody of tears' as it engages the pathos of the audience, establishing her as a victim of war and emphasising the poignant story that is to be unveiled.
The simile comparing herself to a woman 'dragged as a slave' in her lamentation further fortifies Hecuba’s portrayal as a victim of a play. Here, the juxtaposition between her former title 'by birth [as] Troy’s...Queen' and her current state magnifies the drastic change in life and the loss she suffered, compelling the audience to better sympathise with Hecuba. → Powers can be ephemeral in times of crisis.
Talthybius is sympathetic towards women, establishing himself as a complicated figure with a strong sense of integrity. This is epitomised through the ways in which he employs euphemistic language when announcing the dreadful news to Hecuba. He tries his best to be sensitive and mitigate the impacts of Hecuba’s daughter death to her, announcing that Polyxena 'is to serve Achilles at his tomb' and that 'her fate is settled', 'all her troubles are over'. He was being sensitive and subtle instead of abruptly delivering the news. While he represents an enemy state, he shows that men can also be compassionate, contradicting the Phallocentric belief that men should only be governed by cool logic.
Chorus of Trojan Women
It can be argued that Hecuba acts as the paradigm of the Trojan women as her pain (i.e. the deaths of her children, slavery, the devastation of her city), in a way, represents the suffering of the majority of Hellenic women in times of war, which enhances Euripides’ condemnation of a society where military conflicts can easily be facilitated. The Chorus of the play often echoes her deepest pain, establishing a sense of camaraderie between female characters of the play.
In this play, the Chorus acts as the voice of the 'wretched women of Troy', representing the views of the unspoken who are objectified and mistreated by their male counterparts. After Troy lost the war, women were seen as conquests and were traded as slaves, exposing the unfair ethos of a society that was seen as the cradle of civilisation. By allowing the Trojan women to express their indignation and enmity as a response to their impending slavery, Euripides is able to present a critique on the ways in which women were oppressed in Ancient Greece.
5. Literary Devices
Simile (e.g. dragged as a slave)
Euphemism (e.g. serve Achilles at his tomb – euphemism for death)
Symbolism (e.g. Hector’s shield or Troy’s citadel)
Animal imagery (e.g. howl of agony)
Rhetorical question (e.g. for what reason)
Why are these important? Watch how we integrated literary devices as pieces of evidence in this essay topic breakdown:
[Modified Video Transcription]
TIP: See section '7. A+ Essay Topic Breakdown' (below) for an explanation of our ABC approach so that you understand how we've actually tackled this essay prompt.
Staged in a patriarchal society, Women of Troy was set during the immediate aftermath of the Trojan war – a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Hecuba is the former queen of Troy, who suffered so much loss as the mother of her children as well as the mother of Troy. She lost her son Hector and her husband in the Trojan war, her daughter Polyxena also died and Cassandra was raped. After the Greeks won, women were allocated to Greek households and forced into slavery, including the queen of Troy. She was also the mother of Paris, the prince of Troy. It was purported that Paris and Helen were responsible for initiating the war as Helen was governed by her lust for Paris and left Menelaus, the Spartan prince, for this young prince of Troy. Consequently, Menelaus was enraged by this elopement and declared that he wanted Helen dead as a punishment for her disloyalty. Helen defended herself and lied that it was against her will, crying that she was kidnapped and blamed Hecuba for the fall of Troy and for the conflict between the two sides. However, Menelaus did not believe what Helen had to say and decided to bring her back to her home on a separate ship.
The play ended with the Greek ships leaving Troy, which was then on fire. The Trojan were singing a sad song together as they left to prepare for their new lives as slaves living in Greek households.
The play’s main focus is on the suffering of women, as exemplified by the way Euripides chose to portray Hecuba’s loss and Cassandra’s helplessness.
So, our essay prompt for today is
'How does Euripides use the structure of the play to explore the role of women and their suffering in time of war?'
This is indeed one of the more challenging prompts that VCAA wouldn’t probably give, the reason being that it is a language/structure-based prompt. It requires you to have a much more profound knowledge of the text, and it is not always easy to spot language features, especially in a poetic sounding play like Women of Troy. There is just so much going on in the text! While it is not super likely that you will get this prompt for the exam, I have seen a lot of schools give language/structure-based prompts to students for SACs as it gives them an opportunity to challenge themselves and look for textual evidence that will distinguish them from their peers. These types of evidence are definitely worth looking for because they can also be used as evidence to back up your arguments for theme-based or character-based prompts (learn more about the different types of prompts in How To Write A Killer Text Response).
Now let’s get started.
Step 1: Analyse
The first thing I always do is to look for keywords. The key words in this prompt are 'structure, 'role of women' and 'suffering'.
With the structure of the play, we can potentially talk about:
Character-related evidence (e.g. strong female character base)
Language-related features (metalanguage/literacy devices)
Plot-related features (order of events) – irony, foreshadowing
Step 2: Brainstorm
In a male-dominated, patriarchal society, women are oftentimes oppressed and seen as inferior. Their roles in the society were limited, they were only seen as domestic housewives and mothers. It is important to look for evidence that either supports or contradicts this statement. Ask yourself:
Is Euripides trying to support the statement and agree that women are simply creatures of emotions who should only stick with domestic duties?
Or is he trying to criticise this belief by showing that women are so much more than just those being governed by their emotions?
Since this play primarily focuses on the cost of war and how women, as innocent bystanders, have to suffer as a result of the Trojan war, it should not be difficult finding evidence related to women’s suffering. It might include:
Hecuba’s loss (she lost her home and children)
Hecuba’s pain (being blamed for Troy’s ruin)
Cassandra’s helplessness despite knowing her fate, surrendering and accepting her future
Andromache’s 'bitter' fate having to give up her child
The Chorus voicing their opinion – slavery
Once a prompt is carefully broken down, it is no longer that scary because all we have to do now is organise our thoughts and write our topic sentences.
Step 3: Create a Plan
P1: Euripides constructs a strong female character base to contradict the prevailing views of the period that women are inferior to their male counterparts.
It is significant that Euripides chose to have a strong female protagonist, as the character herself acts as a diatribe against the patriarchal society, contradicting any engrained beliefs that pervaded the society at the time. An example of evidence that can support this statement is the way in which Hecuba dominates the stage while giving her opening lamentation. The lengthy nature of the monologue itself enables Euripides to present his proto-feminist ideas and go against the Hellenic gendered prejudice.
We can also talk about Hecuba’s leadership and her interaction with the Chorus of Trojan women. She refers to them as 'my children' and employs the simile 'a mother at her plundered nest'. The way the Greek playwright constructs the relationship between characters is worth mentioning as Hecuba in this play is portrayed as a compassionate and empathetic leader, showing that women are also capable of leading others in a way that engenders a sense of camaraderie between them.
Another good thinking point is to talk about how Helen acts as a paradigm of a group of women who had to turn to deception and go against their integrity to survive in time of tragedy.
P2: Euripides’ selective use of language and literacy devices in portraying women’s pain and suffering further enables him to portray the ways in which women, as innocent bystanders, are oppressed in time of war.
An example of a metalanguage used in this play is the animal imagery the Chorus used to depict Hecuba’s pain. By referring to her pain as a 'howl of agony', they intensify the magnitude of Hecuba’s pain as the term 'howl' is usually used to describe a loud cry usually uttered by animals like wolves. This implies that Hecuba, who acts as representative of Hellenic women, has to suffer from an emotional turmoil that is far beyond bearable, which in turn further fortifies the audience’s sympathy for her, as well as the Trojan women.
Another piece of evidence that I would talk about is the simile 'dragged as a slave'. It was used to describe Hecuba, the former queen of Troy. By likening someone who used to be at a position of power to 'a slave', Euripides underscores the drastic change in circumstances that occurred as a result of the Trojan war, magnifying the tremendous amount of loss Hecuba experienced. Furthermore, the image of the protagonist’s devastated physical state enhances the dramatist’s condemnation of war as it allows him to elucidate the detrimental impacts such violence and dreadfulness impose on innocent bystanders.
There is, of course, plenty of other evidence out there such as the way in which Cassandra is portrayed as a 'poor mad child', her helplessness in surrendering to her 'wretched' fate with Agamemnon who wanted her for himself. We can also talk about the inclusive language positing, 'our misery', 'our home', used by the Chorus in echoing Hecuba’s pain, etc.
The use of symbolism can also be discussed. For instance, the citadel in the city of Troy in the epilogue acts as a metonym for Hecuba’s resistance before entering slavery. The image of it crumbling exemplifies women’s helplessness and enhances the notion that they are still in positions of explicit subjugation.
P3: While Euripides primarily focuses on portraying women’s pain and suffering, he does not completely vilify men or victimise women, maintaining an unbiased view so as to underscore the importance of integrity through his characterisation of both male and female character.
The last body paragraph of our essays is often the one used to challenge the prompt, showing the assessors our wealth of ideas and depth of knowledge. Basically, what we are saying is 'while our playwright is obviously pro-women, he definitely does not condone everything women do and criticise everything men do'. In this way, we have the opportunity to explore the ways characters are constructed and the ways they are used in the play to convey its meaning.
If I were to write an essay on this, I would talk about Talthybius and Helen, mainly because they are both complex characters that the audience cannot fully love or hate.
Talthybius is surprisingly sympathetic towards women, establishing himself as a complicated figure. This is epitomised by the ways in which he employs euphemistic language when announcing the dreadful news to Hecuba. He tries his best to be sensitive and mitigate the impacts of Hecuba’s daughter's death to her, announcing that Polyxena 'is to serve Achilles at his tomb', that 'her fate is settled' and 'all her troubles are over'. He was being sensitive and subtle instead of abruptly delivering the news. While he represents an enemy state, he shows that men can also be compassionate, contradicting the Phallocentric belief that men should only be governed by cool logic.
Similar to Talthybius, Helen is also a complicated figure as she is both a victim of fate and a selfish character. It is possible for the audience to sympathise with her as she is merely a victim of fortune in that she was bewitched by Aphrodite and governed by her love for Paris, the prince of Troy. However, the ways in which she shifts the blame to Hecuba and makes her pleas preclude the audience from completely sympathising with her they, in a way, render her as a self-absorbed and repugnant character. This notion is further fortified by the fact that she cared so little for the 'tens of thousands' lives taken on her behalf as the phrase quantifies and magnifies the cataclysmic consequences of her lust for Paris.
6. LSG-Curated Women of Troy Essay Topics
Euripides’ play Women of Troy mainly focuses on the true cost of war. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
Women of Troy demonstrates that there is no real winner in war. Discuss.
In the Trojan wars, the Trojans suffered great losses while the Greeks did not suffer. Do you agree?
How does Euripides use language to portray the loss and suffering of Hellenic women in Women of Troy?
Characters in Women of Troy are all driven and motivated by their sense of duty and obligation. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
Hecuba’s greatest pain stems from the deaths of her children. Discuss the statement.
While Helen’s selfishness should be condemned, the audience can still condone her actions due to the circumstances she is in. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
Women of Troy is a tragedy, rather than a war-play. Do you agree?
Euripides argues that fate and fortunes are not preordained, and tragedies do not incriminate. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
It is impossible to sympathise with Helen because she is the most mischievous character of the play. Do you agree?
Women of Troy explores the ways in which a character’s true self might emerge in times of tragedy. Discuss.
In Women of Troy, The Chorus’ only role is to act as the representative of Hellenic women. Do you agree?
In the end, the gods are not responsible for the tragedies caused by the Trojan war as it happened as a result of poor choices. Do you agree?
Hecuba is the victim of fate. Discuss.
Love is a dangerous passion that can lead to tragic consequences. Does Women of Troy support this statement?
Hecuba is a tragic hero. Discuss.
How is the structure of Women of Troy used to convey its meaning?
It is possible for the audience to sympathise with Helen because of her love for Paris. Do you agree?
There is no villain in Women of Troy because everyone in the play suffers. Do you agree with the statement?
Discuss the role of dishonesty in Euripides’ Women of Troy.
If you'd like to see A+ essays based off some of the essay topics above (written by Mark Yin - our LSG content guru and 50 English study score achiever), complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+ so that you can emulate this same success, then you'll definitely want to check out our A Killer Text Guide: Women of Troy ebook. In it, we also cover themes, characters, views and values, metalanguage and have 5 sample A+ essays completely annotated so that you can smash your next SAC or exam!
The quote mentions long-lasting sufferings, and the prompt seems to ask who suffers, and who is responsible. If you’ve been reading this guide in order, a lot of similar ideas from the last four essays might jump out here - I think that’s okay, because ideally you do get to a point where you can ‘recycle’ some of your quotes and ideas between essays (and the examiner won’t have to read all your practice essays anyway!).
While I’ll be doing a little bit of recycling here, I want the main take-away point from this essay to be around framing. Even if you’re using similar ideas that you’ve already seen, the trick is to explain and frame your analysis in a way that answers every prompt specifically. This is best done through how you thread your arguments together, and how you make those links. We’ll get into this as we plan.
Step 2: Brainstorm
For now, let’s recap these ideas of suffering and responsibility. Hecuba and the Trojan women suffer, and they argue Helen is responsible - but Helen also suffers, and she argues that the gods are responsible. The gods, as we know, are insulated from suffering because of their divine and superhuman status. So, are they the villains?
Step 3: Create a Plan
This is a similar progression of ideas that we have seen before, but I want to ground them in this cycle of suffering-responsibility.
P1: The eponymous women of Troy certainly suffer, and in many of their eyes, Helen is a villain.
P2: However, Helen does not see herself that way - and she is not incorrect. She too seems to suffer, and she sees the gods as the main villains who are responsible.
P3: Euripides may see the gods as careless and negligent beings, but he doesn’t necessarily depict them as cruel; rather, the excessively passionate war itself is depicted as the true enemy, and villains are those who revel in its cruelty.
As you might notice, parts of this plan are recognisable: we’ve started a few of these essays with a first paragraph about the Trojan women’s suffering, developed that in paragraph two by contrasting with Helen, and ending our analysis with the gods. But when reusing some of those ideas, it’s important to make sure they answer the specific question by modifying and adding new ideas as needed - this way, you don’t rewrite essays for new prompts and risk losing relevance, but you do reuse ideas and tailor them to new prompts every time.
The contention for this one will be: the Trojan War undoubtedly has its winners and losers, and few of these characters agree on who the responsible villains are, with some blaming Helen (P1) while she herself blames the gods (P2). However, the gods only form a part of the picture - rather, Euripides depicts war itself as the villain, lambasting those who take pride in inflicting cruelty in the midst of war (P3).
For many students, writing creative pieces can be slightly daunting. For some, it is about unleashing the writer within as the boundaries and thematic constraints that exist in Text Response are lifted. For others, it can be an opportunity to discover new writing styles, branching out from the generic T-E-E-L structure.
Formats of imaginative pieces include:
a personal diary entry ,
chronicling the character's thoughts,
Writing in an imaginative style allows you to draw from your own morals, views and feelings. You can weave in personal anecdotes, experiences, and metaphorical language which gives one's writing that pizazz and individualist factor!
Moreover, you can showcase how you have perceived and interpreted the characters within the novel/film, the landscapes they inhabit. Alternatively, you can step into different personas. For example, for the topic of conflict, I can write as an injured army medic, a doctor, a foreign correspondent and a war photographer.
However, imaginative writing also has many pitfalls students tumble into (do not despair; you can get out of it!):
1) Don't get too caught up in emotions and flowery language.
Great imaginative pieces are not only graded on how good your story telling skills are. More importantly, your teachers would be grading on the palpable links to the themes of the text and prompt you have been given.
In Year 11, when I wrote an imaginative piece, I went overboard with the flowery metaphorical language. My teacher said ‘Overall, the piece is good however, at some parts it sounded like purple prose.’ When I read it over now, I shudder a little.
2) In Reading and Creative, there is greater emphasis on extrapolating themes and ideas from your studied text.
So, those radical and out-of-the box ideas and views you have in relation to the text can now be used.
For example, the overarching themes in Every Man In This Village Is A Liar encompass the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, inequality (the unequal status of women in Middle East), the effect of war on the physical body and the human psych and, how the media portrays war and violence. The starting point to planning any context piece is to use quotes and ideas within your text. Infer meaning from those quotes and main ideas and ask yourself:
'Does it hold a great degree of relevance to issues prevalent today?'
'Can I link it to my sac/exam prompt?'
So, here's an example of planning a creative piece. Two of my favourite quotes from Life of Galileo are:
'Science is the rightful, much loved daughter of the church.'
‘Our ignorance is limitless; let us lop off a millimeter off it. Why try to be clever now that we at last have a chance of being less stupid.’
In essence, this conveys the overarching theme of science vs. religion, and how Church and the inquisition exploit the peoples' views through their own ignorance. Their fear of change, pioneering and gaining of new knowledge stems from the prospect of chaos if society's entrenched values are uprooted. I interpreted this as 'ignorance is not bliss' and instead, it breeds fear in people. This is in relevance with the tragic events that has occurred in recent years - acts of terrorism, and/or racially motivated attacks. In the context of our modern society, religion and science still maintain an intriguing and tumultuous relationship. As the advancement of technology and ethics are not at equilibrium, this is where controversy arises. Conversely, we now have to consider whether this relates to the prompt:
A person never knows who they truly are, until tested by conflict.
Possible idea for this example:
"Is it ethical to administer a new drug capable of rewiring and regenerating brain function at a neuronal level to someone who has sustained extensive brain damage? Is it deemed humane to potentially change a person's character? At what personal cost will this have? - Playing god."
Tips to achieve A+ in creative writing
1. Ensure it is related to the text.
A lot of students believe that the reading and creating essay is exactly the same as the old context essay. However, there is a significant difference! While a creative context essay does not have to link to the text in any way and only needs to explore a certain idea (e.g. encountering conflict), the reading and creating essay needs to offer a relevant interpretation of the text as well as show understanding of the text’s messages and how the text creates meaning.
The easiest way to write a creative response that links clearly to the text is to write about a scenario that is related to the plot line. You can do this by writing a continuation of the storyline (i.e. what happens after the end?), or by filling in gaps in the plot line which the author did not explicitly outline (what happens behind the scenes that caused the outcome?) In this way, your response will be completely original and still demonstrate an understanding of the world of the text.
2. Write in a way that shows understanding of how the text creates meaning.
When creating your response, be aware of the features present in your text (such as characters, narrative, motifs etc) that you can use in your own essay. For example, if the text is narrated from a first-person perspective, you may also mimic this in your essay. Or, you could tell it in first-person from another character’s point of view to demonstrate another interpretation of the text. You may also include motifs from the text into your own response. But be careful when making decisions about structure, conventions and language. If the text is written in very formal and concise language, it is probably not a good idea to use slang. Similarly, if the text is a play, structuring your response as a script might be a better choice than writing a poem!
3. Explore the explicit and implied ideas and values in the texts.
Lastly, remember that whilst it is a creative response, your purpose is NOT to tell a nice story but to explore the ideas, values and messages left by the author! There will always be various interpretations regarding these values, and you can express your understanding of the text through your portrayal of certain characters, or through the events in your response. For example, if you were studying Measure for Measure and wanted to explore how human nature cannot be restrained or limited by law and punishment, you could write a continuation of the play in which the city of Vienna has reverted to its original state of moral decay.
4. Show, don't tell
Creative essays are great because they offer interesting and unique stories; however, there is one common downfall that occurs in writing. Some students create pieces that are too straightforward. Rather than using vocabulary, imagery and symbolism to express a point, they simply write down a statement that sums up what they wish to say. Your aim is to invite the reader to experience the story through your words. This can be done through the character’s thoughts, feelings, actions etc. Thus the well-known phrase among writers, ‘Show, don’t tell’. Keeping this idea in mind turn you into a much more successful writer – and you’ll see the difference!
Tell: Katie was very happy.
Show: Katie’s face lifted. Little wrinkles appeared around her bright eyes, her dimples made an appearance that dug into her cheeks as a big grin emerged to show her perfect teeth.
Tell: She felt horrible for the weeping children.
Show: Guilt throbbed inside her as she stared at the weeping children. Her heart pounded against her chest, her hands trembling beside her still body, her brain screaming at her to do something.
Tell: I was scared.
Show: I hear my breathing; heavy, and rapid. I shut my eyes tightly. I can feel goosebumps running up my arms and down my back.
To test whether or not you are ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’, think about whether or not your sentence leaves room for questions. In Example 1, ‘Katie was very happy’ would leave the reader thinking – what thought or action showed that she was happy? Whereas ‘show’ demonstrated that she was happy without directly stating it.
The key is to go into the finer details of your story!
Finally, have fun and enjoy the process of planning a creative narrative, let your imagination run a little wild and rein it in with your knowledge! Hopefully these tips were helpful and you are now more confident and informed on the Reading and Creating response!
This blog post was written by Amanda Lau, Rosemary Chen, and Lisa Tran.
Rear Window is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
When most people think of Hitchcock, it’s the screeching violins from Psycho that first come to mind. Whilst he is indeed known for his hair-curling thrillers, Rear Window is a slightly subtler film which focuses not on a murderer at large, but rather a crippled photographer who never even leaves his apartment.
Our protagonist L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies is portrayed by James Stewart, who was known at the time for portraying cowboys in various Western films as well as starring in an earlier Hitchcock film Rope. After breaking his leg after a racing accident, Jeff begins to spy on his neighbours, one of whom he suspects of having committed a murder.
Despite some initial misgivings, his insurance nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and lover Lisa (Grace Kelly) also come to share his suspicions and participate in his spying. Their contributions ultimately allow the mystery to be solved.
Intertwined with this mystery is also the rather complex story of Jeff and Lisa’s relationship. Jeff on one hand resembles the ‘macho’ men of action whom Stewart is very accustomed to playing. On the other hand, Kelly portrays a character much like herself, a refined and elegant urbanite whose lifestyle inherently clashes with that of an action photographer.
Hitchcock ultimately resolves both of these storylines in the film’s denouement.
2. Historial Context
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the film, it is crucial to understand a bit about its historical context. As with any other text, the social conditions at the time of Rear Window’s release in 1954 inform and shape the interactions and events of the film.
Released in the post-war period, the film is undoubtedly characterised by the interpersonal suspicion which defined the era. In particular, there was a real fear in America of Communist influences and Soviet espionage - so much so that a tribunal was established, supposedly to weed out Communists despite a general lack of evidence. This practice of making accusations without such evidence is now known as the McCarthyism, named after the senator behind the tribunal.
The film undoubtedly carries undertones of this, particularly in Jeff’s disregard for his neighbours’ privacy and his unparalleled ability to jump to conclusions about them. During this era, people really did fear one another, since the threat of Communism felt so widespread. Jeff’s exaggerated interpretations of his neighbours’ actions lead him to an irrational sense of suspicion, which is in many way the basis of the entire film.
At the same time, the 1950s saw a boom in photojournalism as a legitimate profession. To some extent, this was fuelled by the heyday of Life magazine (an American weekly, as well-known then as Time magazine is today). This publication was almost entirely photojournalistic, and one of their war photojournalists, Robert Capa, is actually the basis of Jeff’s character. This explains the prevalence of cameras in his life, as well as his ability to emotionally distance himself from those whom he observes through the lens.
Another crucial historical element is the institution of marriage, and how important it was to people during the 1950s. It was an aspiration which everyone was expected to have, and this is reflected statistically - only 9.3% of homes then had single occupants (as opposed to around 25% today). People also tended to marry at a younger age, generally in their early 20s.
Conversely, divorce was highly frowned upon, and once you were married, you would in general remain married for the rest of your life. In particular, divorced women suffered massive financial difficulties, since men, as breadwinners, held higher-paying jobs, and women were only employed in traditionally female roles (e.g. secretaries, nurses, teachers, librarians). Seen in this light, we can understand Lisa’s overwhelming desire to marry and settle down with Jeff. The importance of marriage is also evident in the lives of Jeff’s neighbours; Miss Torso’s 'juggling [of the] wolves', and Miss Lonelyheart’s depression both reflect this idea.
Combining a basic understanding of the film’s plot, as well as our knowledge of its history, we can begin to analyse some of the themes that emerge.
Possibly the central tenet of the film is the big question of privacy. Even in today’s society, the sanctity of privacy is an important concept; every individual has a right to make their own choices without having to disclose, explain or justify all of them. The character of Doyle says almost these exact words:
'That’s a secret and private world you’re looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private that they couldn’t possibly explain in public'
The tension that Hitchcock draws upon is this other idea of public responsibility, or civic duty - that is, the need to uphold the peace and protect one’s fellow citizens from harm. These ideas clash in Rear Window, as fulfilling this civic responsibility (which for Jeff means privately investigating Thorwald) means that Thorwald’s right to privacy gets totally thrown out the window. So to speak.
Evidently, this is a major moral dilemma. If you suspect that someone has committed murder, does this give you the right to disregard their privacy and surveil them in this way? While the film doesn’t give a definite answer (and you won’t be required to give a definite answer), Hitchcock undoubtedly explores the complexity of this question. Even Jeff has misgivings about what he’s seeing:
'Do you suppose it’s ethical to watch a man with binoculars, and a long-focus lens—until you can see the freckles on the back of his neck, and almost read his mail? Do you suppose it’s ethical even if you prove he didn’t commit a crime?'
In some ways, the audience is also positioned to reflect on this question, and in particular, reflect on the paranoia that characterised and defined the McCarthy era.
Somewhat separate to these questions is the romance between Jeff and Lisa, since Hitchcock seems to keep the thriller storyline and the romance storyline separate for a large part of the film. Their contrasting lifestyles and world views present a major obstacle in the fulfilment of their romance, and the murder mystery both distracts and unites them. Hitchcock further alludes to the question of whether marriage will be able to settle those differences after all - a major example is the following scene, in which Lisa not only reveals her discovery of Mrs Thorwald’s ring, but also expresses a desire for Jeff to ‘put a ring on it’ as well:
It’s impossible to study a Hitchcock film without considering how he impacted and manipulated its storytelling. The cinematographic techniques employed in Rear Window are important ways of shaping our understanding of the film, and Hitchcock uses a wide array of visual cues to communicate certain messages.
Lighting is one such cue that he uses a lot - it is said that at certain points in filming, he had used every single light owned by the studio in which this film was shot. In this film, lighting is used to reveal things: when the lights are on in any given apartment, Jeff is able to peer inside and watch through the window (almost resembling a little TV screen; Jeff is also able to channel surf through the various apartments - Hitchcock uses panning to show this).
On the contrary, a lack of lighting is also used to hide things, and we see Thorwald utilise this at many stages in the film. Jeff also takes advantage of this, as he often sits in a position where he is very close to being in the shadows himself; if he feels the need, he is able to retreat such that he is fully enshrouded. Low-key lighting in these scenes also contributes to an overall sense of drama and tension.
Another handy visual cue is the cross-cut, which is an example of the Kuleshov effect. The Kuleshov effect is an editing technique whereby a sequence of two shots is used to convey information more effectively than just a single shot. Specifically, the cross-cut shifts from a shot of a person to a second shot of something that this person is watching.
We see this often, particularly when Jeff is responding to events in the courtyard; Hitchcock uses this cross-cut to immediately show us what has caused Jeff’s response. This visual cue indicates to viewers that we are seeing what Jeff is seeing, and is one of the few ways that Hitchcock helps audiences assume Jeff’s point-of-view in key moments.
Similarly, Hitchcock also uses photographic vignetting to merge our perspectives with Jeff’s - in certain shots, we see a fade in clarity and colour towards the sides of a frame, and this can look like a circular shadow, indicating to us that we are seeing something through a telescope or a long-focus lens.
Interestingly, a vignette is also a short, descriptive scene that focuses on a certain character and/or idea to provide us with insights about them - in this sense, it’s also possible to say that Jeff watches vignettes of his neighbours. Since this word has two meanings, you must be careful about which meaning you’re referring to.
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5. Key Symbols
As with any other text, it’s important to consider some of the key symbols that Hitchcock draws upon in order to tell his story. That being said, one of the benefits of studying a film is that these symbols tend to be quite visual - you are able to see these recurring images and this may make them easier to spot. We’ll be going through some of these key images in the final part of this guide.
One of the first symbols we see is Jeff’s broken leg, which is propped up and completely covered by a cast, useless for the time being. Because he has been rendered immobile by his leg, readers can infer from this symbol that he is also incapable of working or even leaving his apartment, let alone solving a murder mystery. The broken leg is in this sense a symbol of his powerlessness and the source of much of his discontent.
Another interpretation of the broken leg however, is that it represents his impotence which on one hand is synonymous for powerlessness or helplessness, but is on the other hand an allusion to his apparent inability to feel sexual desire. Being constantly distracted from Lisa by other goings-on in the courtyard definitely supports this theory. All in all, Jeff’s broken leg represents some compromise of his manhood, both in the sense that he cannot work in the way that a man would have been expected to, but also in the sense that he is unable to feel any attraction towards Lisa, even as she tries her best to seduce him.
Conversely, Jeff’s long-focus camera lens is a symbol of his passive male gaze, which is more or less the only thing he can do in his condition. It is the main means through which he observes other people, and thus, it also symbolises his voyeuristic tendencies - just as his broken leg traps and inhibits him, his camera lens transports him out of his own apartment and allows him to project his own fears and insecurities into the apartments of his neighbours, watching them for entertainment, for visual pleasure.
In this latter sense, the camera lens can also be understood as a phallic symbol, an erection of sorts. It highlights Jeff’s perverted nature, and the pleasure he derives from the act of observing others. Yikes.
On the other hand, Lisa’s dresses underscore the more positive parts of her character. Her initial wardrobe represents her elegance and refinery whilst also communicating a degree of incompatibility with Jeff. However, as she changes and compromises throughout the film, her wardrobe also becomes much more practical and much less ostentatious as the film wears on, until she is finally wearing a smart blouse, jeans and a pair of loafers. The change in her wardrobe reflects changes in her character as well.
Finally, the wedding ring of Mrs Thorwald is hugely significant; wedding rings in general represent marriage and commitment, and are still very important symbols that people still wear today. Specifically, Mrs Thorwald’s ring means a couple of things in the context of the film - it is firstly a crucial piece of evidence (because if Mrs Thorwald was still alive, she would probably still be wearing it) and it is also a symbol through which Lisa can express a desire for stability, commitment and for herself to be married.
There’s definitely plenty to talk about with Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and I hope these points of consideration help you tackle this film!
Test your film technique knowledge with the video below:
Ready to start writing on Rear Window? Watch the Rear Window Essay Topic Breakdown:
6. Sample Essay Topics
In Rear Window, Hitchcock suggests that everybody can be guilty of voyeurism. Do you agree?
Jeff’s attempts to pursue justice are entirely without honour. To what extent is this true?
In the society presented in Rear Window, Jeff has more power and agency than Lisa in spite of his injury. Do you agree?
Discuss how the opening sequence sets up later themes and events in Rear Window.
'Of course, they can do the same thing to me, watch me like a bug under glass if they want to.' Hitchcock’s Rear Window argues that it is human nature to be suspicious. To what extent do you agree?
Explore the role of Jeff’s courtyard neighbours in the narrative of Rear Window.
Jeff and Lisa’s roles in Rear Window, as well as that which they witness, reflect the broader societal tensions between the sexes of the time. Discuss.
'I’m not much on rear window ethics.' The sanctity of domestic privacy supersedes the importance of public responsibility. Is this the message of Rear Window?
Marriage lies at the heart of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Discuss.
Hitchcock’s Rear Window explores and ultimately condemns the spectacle made of human suffering. Is this an accurate reflection of the film?
Rear Window argues that it is more important to be right than to be ethical. Do you agree?
'To see you is to love you.' What warnings and messages regarding attraction are offered by Hitchcock’s Rear Window?
In Rear Window, women are merely objects of a sexist male gaze. To what extent do you agree?
In what ways do Hitchcock’s cinematic techniques enhance his storytelling in Rear Window?
'When they’re in trouble, it’s always their Girl Friday that gets them out of it.' Is Lisa the true heroine of Rear Window?
Now it's your turn to give these essay topics a go! In our ebook A Killer Text Guide: Rear Window, we've take 5 of these essay topics and show you our analysis, brainstorm and plan for each individual topic. We then write up full A+ essays - all annotated - so that you know exactly what you need to do to replicate a 50 study scorer's success!.
7. Essay Topic Breakdown
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy - a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response because it’ll dramatically enhance how much you can take away from the following essays and more importantly, your ability to apply this strategy in your own writing.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Film technique-based prompt:
Hitchcock’s use of film techniques offers an unnerving viewing experience. Discuss.
Step 1: Analyse
While we should use film techniques as part of our evidence repertoire in each essay, this particular type of essay prompt literally begs for it. As such, I’d ensure that my essay has a greater focus on film techniques (without concerning myself too much over inclusion of quotes; the film techniques will act as a replacement for the quotes).
Step 2: Brainstorm
Since the essay prompt is rather open-ended, it is up to us to decide which central themes and ideas we’d like to focus on. By narrowing down the discussion possibilities ourselves, we’ll 1) make our lives easier by removing the pressure to write about everything, and 2) offer teachers and examiners a more linear and straightforward approach that will make it easier for them to follow (and give you better marks!).
The ‘unnerving viewing experience’ is present throughout the entire film, so my approach will be to divide up each paragraph into start of the film, middle of the film and end of the film discussions. This will help with my essay’s coherence (how well the ideas come together), and flow (how well the ideas logically progress from one to another).
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention: Through a diverse range of film techniques, Hitchcock instils fear and apprehension into the audience of Rear Window.
P1: The opening sequence of Rear Window employs various film techniques to immediately establish underlying tension in its setting.
P2: Through employing the Kuleshov effect in the strategically cut scene of Miss Lonelyhearts’ attempted suicide, Hitchcock adds to the suspenseful tone of the film by developing a guilty voyeur within each viewer.
P3: In tandem with this, Hitchcock ultimately adds to the anxiety of the audience by employing lighting and cross-cutting techniques in the climax scene of the plot, in which an infuriated Thorwald attempts to enter Jeff’s apartment.
If you find this helpful, then you might want to check out our A Killer Text Guide: Rear Windowebook, which has all the information and resources you need to succeed in your exam, with detailed summaries and background information, as well as a detailed analysis of all five essay prompts!
If you are anything like me, the thought of standing up in front of a classroom, or even a small panel of teachers, having to hold the floor for five minutes, and being assessed on your performance is just about as terrifying as it gets. Where other students thrived on the oral presentation SAC, embracing its change of pace in comparison to the other written tasks, I dreaded it. I knew the feeling all too well: legs jelly-like and quivering, breath short and rapid, palms sweating, tongue uncomfortably heavy as the words tumble out too fast to keep up with…essentially (as I, a true master of the English language, would put it) the absolute worst.
Fast forward to the present day and, I hate to break it to you, I am still not a fan of public speaking. But guess what? I did my oral presentation and I’m still alive to tell the tale. Plus, as a bonus, it did not involve me passing out, and as a double bonus, I still ended up with a great result. So I am here, my fellow members of the ‘Might Go Ahead and Drop Out of VCE so I Don’t Have To Do My Oral’ club, as proof that it can be done and to help you get through it.
What Do We Mean by ‘Overcoming’?
As I have already mentioned, emerging triumphant from your oral does not require you to magically become a public speaking fanatic. Let me manage your expectations right now: that probably isn’t going to happen overnight, and likely never will. But you can still be good at public speaking, perhaps great at it, even if it scares you. Trying to figure out a magical formula of preparation that will have you breezing through the oral in total zen-mode is not only going to waste your time, but will likely also make you more frightened when you realise that you can’t completely shake the nerves. So, by accepting the reality that the fear probably isn’t going to go away any time soon we can start to learn how to manage it, at least succeed in spite of it, and hopefully even use it to our advantage.
“an inherently interesting topic means that you’ll showcase your opinions in an authentic way, which is incredibly important when it comes to presentation time.”
This becomes particularly significant for someone dealing with a fear of public speaking because of this basic principle: when you care about something it is easier to talk about, even in front of other people. This means that you don’t just need to choose a topic that will engage your audience, but also one that you yourself find engaging.
Fear is an intense emotional response to a situation, and as we know it can easily consume us in the moment. If your oral topic is boring and does not interest you on a personal level then what is going to be the strongest emotion you feel when delivering it? Fear. However, passion is another intense emotional response, and so if you are passionate about the arguments you are making then, although your fear will still be there, you will feel another strong emotion that can balance it out.
So how do you find a contention that you care about? Often the best place to start is to think about the things that affect your life. We know that your topic has to have been in the media since September of last year, but lots of things are on the news and they don’t only matter to the older generations. Think about issues that relate to schools, jobs, climate change, animals, drug-taking, fashion – these are all aspects of our lives that you might be able to form a personal connection to, and that personal connection will help you find the passion you need to get through the speech, and also get through to your audience. Check out our 2021 Oral Presentation Topics for some topic inspiration, and then learn how to create a killer contention here.
More About the Voice, Less About the Words
It is quite likely that if you know you struggle with the delivery of oral presentations, you might try to compensate by overreaching with your script. For someone who feels more comfortable with written assessments, it can be easy to try to make the oral as close to one as possible by writing it almost as you would an essay – using lots of impressive vocabulary, complex sentences and a formal structure. This approach is all well and good until you try to say it all out loud. This isn’t to say that your command of language isn’t important to the oral, but by trying to craft a safety net of eloquent, written words you are simply distracting yourself from what makes this SAC unique; you can’t avoid the fear by avoiding the task altogether. So, you need to write a speech that you can say, not just one that sounds good on paper. Writing with the wrong sense of tone is one of the points we touch on in 5 Common Oral Presentation Mistakes.
During the writing process, you need to make your speech work for you rather than make yourself work for it. This means constantly thinking about what the words will sound like in front of an audience, and not making the performance unnecessarily hard for yourself before you even start practicing. When you’re already nervous about speaking in front of other people, the last thing you want to have to worry about is tripping over difficult language to make convoluted arguments. So, simplicity and punch is always better than verbosity and pretence. Here are some ideas of how to use this strategy:
Make your arguments short, sharp, and to the point. Avoid going off on any tangents, and just stick to the main points you need to get across. You are trying to persuade your audience, not confuse them.
Use a mixture of long and short sentences, because a script that uses varied sentence structures is easier to say out loud without stumbling due to nerves. Short, bold statements are both less prone to being mangled by nerves and more memorable for your listeners – just make sure you don’t only use short sentences and prevent your oral from flowing.
Think about where you can schedule in pauses for emphasis, because these will give you space to stop and catch your breath without revealing your nervousness.
Write like you speak! Of course you want your tone to be assertive and intelligent, but it is possible to maintain this whilst also incorporating some relaxed language. You are allowed to use the first person in this task, so take the opportunity to personalise what you say, which will help you appear more comfortable and also form a personal connection with your audience. Remember that an oral is essentially a conversation with your audience, even if they don’t get to speak back, and this means that as long as you don’t use slang you can have some fun with your delivery.
Don’t rely on an essay-like structure. Your audience won’t know when a paragraph ends, so the way the script looks on the page is largely irrelevant. Make it easy for yourself to follow.
Remember, when you struggle with a fear of public speaking it is difficult to make what you say in the spotlight sound natural. To overcome this, you want to prepare yourself to almost sound unscripted (as ironic as that sounds). Without slipping into an overly casual or informal voice, it is best if you sound comfortable and relaxed when addressing your audience. This is of course the exact opposite of how you might feel going into the assessment, so you write a speech that will make you seem like you aren’t worried about passing out. The ancient adage ‘fake it ‘til you make it baby’ definitely rings true here. However, that said, really believing what you are saying and caring that the audience believes it too, as we advised earlier, will also help you avoid sounding forced and uncomfortable.
Preparation and Memorisation
Another mistake often made when attempting to compensate for a fear of public speaking is to rely too heavily on cue cards in the oral. Having your entire speech on hand when you complete the assessment just in case you get lost might seem like a good idea, but it is most likely actually going to hold you back from giving your best performance. Ideally, you want to have done enough preparation so that you do not need to look at your notes at all. As we discussed earlier, having a script that is as simple as possible, and that mimics your speech patterns, will help you sound less fearful – and will also be easier to memorise.
Memorise your speech by practicing it as much as possible. Make sure to get your script written as far in advance as you can, so you have plenty of time to practice without stressing yourself out further. When you do practice, do so standing up, envision an audience in front of you (or practice in front of friends or family), and rehearse how you might move around the space as you talk. You can start by having your whole script with you, but eventually you should work up to only needing a few dot points for each section that can jog your memory if you forget. This strategy might seem to make the speech even scarier, but in reality not reading off a script will help you relax into the performance, and allow you to focus on your movements and voice. Practicing enough to have the speech memorised will also help build your confidence.
Making the Most of Your Nerves
As much as I would love to tell you that you can be ‘cured’ of your fear of public speaking, it is best to accept that the nerves are going to be there and learn how to succeed in tandem with them, rather than just hoping that they go away. Instead of being convinced that fear is going to be your downfall, try to think about how, as impossible as it sounds, you can use the nerves to your advantage. Apart from making you jittery and uncomfortable, nerves also boost your energy and adrenaline, and with the right attitude you can turn this energy into confidence. Instead of letting your nerves cause you to close up, you can use them to help you open up. Often those of us who fear feeling exposed in front of a crowd have quiet, reserved personalities that we might think of as preventing us from being able to perform. However, when our bodies are flooded with nerves this ‘wired’ feeling can be used to help us project our voices and to take up space, therefore driving us to appear more outgoing. Instead of just making you feel ‘on edge’, a manageable amount of nervous energy can give you an edge that will amp up your performance.
Even if all of this sounds completely different to your experience of fear, what I am trying to communicate is that the way you frame the oral, and the nerves that come with it, in your mind makes all the difference. If you convince yourself that you are too scared of public speaking to ever succeed with this task, you are severely limiting your chances of achieving a positive outcome. So, focussing on retraining your mindset in the lead up to delivering your speech is very important. Try not to think of this one assessment task as being a make or break five minutes, and instead view it as a learning experience that you can use to your advantage. After all, public speaking is something most of us will have to deal with multiple times over the course of our lives, so you may as well work on getting better at it. That said, my number one piece of advice about the oral presentation is to…*drumroll please*...not take it too seriously! This might sound unrealistic, and I am definitely not telling you to put in less effort, but the more pressure you put on yourself the more nervous you are going to be. Choose a topic that interests you, believe in your contention, make use of humour and personal anecdotes, and just have fun with what you say! Your fear is probably going to be your biggest obstacle, so make it as easy as you can on yourself and the rest should fall into place…as long as you put in the work.